Mental wellbeing for young people

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Eating Disorders

Chi-Chi photo Chi-Chi · 18 Aug, 2020

We talk a lot about our diet, and conditions like obesity - but it's really important to remember that many people do struggle with their relationship with food. Dr Chi-Chi Obuaya talks about the two most common eating disorders - and how to get your relationship with food back on track.

I'm doctor Chi-Chi Obuaya, Consultant psychiatrist. And I'm going to talk about eating disorders.

We talk a lot about our diets and there's a lot of concern about conditions like obesity, but it's really important to remember that many people do struggle with their relationship with food. And the two most common conditions for us to think about would be anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Starting with anorexia, that's a condition where people are underweight, but have a concern that they're actually going to become overweight, and that can be associated with changes in the way in which people are interacting with their food, restricting the number of calories they intake and the types of foods that they eat. There may be attempts to control weight by taking diet pills or laxatives or vomiting food after meals. And they can also be a loss of periods in girls and a reduced libido in young men and boys.

Bulimia nervosa is where there are concerns about weight without necessarily having a drop in weight. And there's a binge pattern. So eating lots of a certain type of food, in a short space of time, and then what we call purging. So getting rid of it often through vomiting and through using other pills like laxatives.

So eating disorders are currently much more common in girls rather than boys. We don't fully understand the reason for that. What we do know is that the numbers amongst boys seem to be increasing and body image concerns amongst boys are also becoming much more evident.

We don't fully understand why eating disorders occur either. There's a lot that we don't really appreciate about what's going on. It is a condition that may be more common in certain families.

And what we do know is that food is one of the ways in which we are able to exert a bit of control in our environment. And if there are difficulties going on, say within a family, then controlling what goes into one's body, is a way of getting more of a sense of control in a situation where there's a lack of control.

That's not to say people are doing it deliberately. So these are things that happen unconsciously.

Now we may feel that wanting to be thin is a good thing, or there's nothing serious about losing a bit of weight, but actually eating disorders, if they're prolonged, can have significant consequences on all parts of our body.

So it can effect our teeth, our skin. It can also be life threatening, so it can affect our cardiovascular system and our bones. So they are really serious if they're left untreated.

And the main treatment is actually talking therapy and that might be on an individual basis. It might also involve family members because of the nature in which, it causes difficulties in our relationships.

In some cases - more so with bulimia - medication may also be needed. And when the eating disorder is very severe, people need often to go into hospital and it can be for quite long periods of time.

I'd really encourage people to access help through the GP. And also there are a number of eating disorder charities. And if you're interested in hearing more, I'd highly recommend the charity Beat, as the main eating disorders resource. Thank you.





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