What is an eating disorder? An eating disorder is an umbrella term for an illness which can have a variety of different unhealthy eating and weight control behaviours. These behaviours can become obsessive, compulsive, and/or impulsive in nature and include extreme emotions and attitudes.
How many people does this effect? It’s difficult to get statistics specifically relevant to Ireland but the Department of Health estimates that up to 200,000 people (and their families) in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders. With an estimated 400 new cases emerging yearly, this is cause for concern. Unfortunately eating disorders claim the life of 80 people each year. Frighteningly, every year the death rate among females aged 15-24 years associated with anorexia is more than 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes combined. These figures are frightening but hopefully encourage action.
Who is at risk? Eating disorders are most prevalent in females in the 15-40 age group. According to a study that was conducted in 2007, 1.2% of Irish girls may be at risk of developing anorexia nervosa and 2% at risk of developing bulimia nervosa. Although eating disorders generally affect women, it’s estimated that 10% of cases of anorexia and bulimia are male and this appears to be increasing. Eating disorders like these often result in treatment within hospitals, accounting for 18% of paediatric psychiatric admissions in Ireland in 2008. Although your child may not have an eating disorder, one study of secondary school pupils showed that over ¼ of girls and over 1/5 of boys had engaged in either bulimic or anorexic behaviour.
What are the signs to look out for?
Anorexia: Some signs include weight loss in a short space of time, loss of periods in women, food restriction, abnormal behaviours and food rituals, mood swings, perfectionism, insecurity, rigid and obsessive behaviour, preoccupation with appearance, and occasionally avoiding company.
Bulimia: Some signs include frequent changes in weight, sore throat, tooth decay, preoccupation with body shape and weight, vomiting and use of laxatives, increase in exercise, fear of weight gain, low mood, tiredness, hair loss, extreme emotions regarding weight change.
Can nutrition input help? A holistic, all round approach to helping someone with recovery is important. Nutritional therapy and nutritional education are integral in helping to create a greater understanding as well as more control over eating and food-related behaviours. Additionally diet is central in helping to repair the body after a period of time with a nutritionally insufficient diet.