March 1 – 7 was Eating Disorders Awareness Week here in the UK. Run by Beat, the aim is to raise awareness, share stories and open up the conversation about eating disorders.

 

I’ve never experienced an eating disorder myself. That’s why, as a personal blog, this roundup will focus on the resources put out by Beat and what we can all do to help those who are experiencing an eating disorder.

eating disorders awareness week 2021

2 Heart Shaped Cookies with One Absent leaving a heart shaped cutout outlined with sugar.

This blog includes descriptions of eating disorders that some readers may find distressing. Support is available via Beat 0808 801 0677 or the Samaritans 116 123.

March 1 – 7 was Eating Disorders Awareness Week here in the UK. Run by Beat, the aim is to raise awareness, share stories and open up the conversation about eating disorders.

I’ve never experienced an eating disorder myself. That’s why, as a personal blog, this roundup will focus on the resources put out by Beat and what we can all do to help those who are experiencing an eating disorder.

For the first time, a specific eating disorder was chosen as the theme – binge eating.

Binge eating is believed to be the most common type, affecting one in 50 of us. With 29% of contacts to Beat’s helpline in November 2020 about the disorder, it’s certainly something that deserves more awareness.

Campaign Video

It’s important to note this isn’t just about overindulging or having that extra helping. It’s a real mental illness where people eat a lot of food over a short period to the point it makes them uncomfortable. It’s also different from bulimia, as the food is not always brought back up.

Symptoms include eating alone or in secret even when not very hungry, sometimes very quickly, and you can read more about the medical side of the illness on the NHS website.

Binge eating takes a considerable toll on the mental health of those affected, as well as the physical consequences. Reading through the stories shared by Beat and seeing the distress this illness caused was upsetting for me.

It’s important to raise awareness of this eating disorders awareness week because this is a genuine mental illness, and what stood out to me was the lack of control and the inability to just stop. Beat described people eating from bins or even stealing food to binge.

And the week was a success. Beat reported 2300 people calling them for the first time with over 1100 reaching out about binge eating disorders either because they themselves were struggling, or worried about someone else.

But it is possible to recover. There are treatments available, from therapy to medication. Like all things mental health, I’d encourage you to reach out, to take your first steps to recovery.

EDAW provides an opportunity to say to those affected it’s okay to talk about eating disorders and to highlight the support that is out there. Others’ sharing their stories to say you are not alone, and it is possible to make life better.

But they’re also designed to reach people, like me, who have never suffered an eating disorder. They help challenge some of the myths like binge eating is for enjoyment or someone should have more self-control.

As a mental illness, binge eating should be taken seriously as there is a wider, more complex process at play that is not a simple case of eating too much.

So often our reaction during mental health conversations can determine the outcome, and being aware of an issue is the first step in responding positively to it.

When someone says they have an eating disorder, we should take them seriously. We could signpost them to a GP, a local eating disorders charity, or Beat’s helpline. Under 18s may find ChildLine useful too.

And it’s okay to admit that we probably won’t understand the exact thoughts and feelings that someone is going through. I certainly don’t. But while we’re not meant to be experts, we can be supportive friends.

And that involves listening, and a simple “I’m here for you”. It’s having a cup of tea when lockdown allows, playing a video game together and continuing your friendship as usual.

You’re not going to have all the answers or the right thing to say. But you can still be there. Be guided by what the other person wants, and don’t be too disheartened if you’re energetic requests to do things are declined.

The best way to support someone is to be there for them, and all the rest will fall into place. But remember to take care of your own mental health too, it’s important to set those boundaries. But know you are not alone, and the support I’ve mentioned is there for you.

As always I appreciate you reading my thoughts this EDAW and if you know of a blog or video I should watch specifically made for this year (2021) drop it in the comments and I’ll be happy to include a link to it in this blog.

By Jake Symons

Jake Symons is an entrepreneur and passionate mental health advocate who is determined to share his story to help others. Alongside writing on this blog he hosts Mental Monday: Mental Health Live a biweekly intimate and unscripted conversation about mental health.

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