How you (and the microbiome) can help to support somebody with an eating disorder
This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) in the UK – an international awareness event designed to fight the myths and misunderstandings around eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).
This year the charity that funds EDAW is highlighting one particular disorder, known as binge eating disorder, which is the most common of all eating disorders. People suffering from this illness eat very large quantities of food without feeling that they are in control of what they are doing – it is generally used as a mechanism for managing difficult or overwhelming emotions.
Whilst one in 50 of us will suffer from binge eating disorder at some point in our lives, overall, 1.25 million people in the UK are living with an eating disorder right now. And the average time before somebody seeks help for an eating disorder is 149 weeks (almost three years). This is upsetting in a situation where we know that the sooner somebody gets treatment for an eating disorder, the sooner they can start to recover.
It is also clear that our understanding of eating disorders is limited – a survey conducted for EDAW 2020 showed that over a third of adults in the UK could not name any signs or symptoms of an eating disorder. These signs include the following:
- Obsessive or secretive around food
- A distorted body image
- Self-conscious when eating in front of others
- Disappearing to the toilet after meals
- Starting to exercise excessively
- Tiredness and an inability to concentrate
- Exhibiting erratic behaviour (mood swings)
- Social withdrawal (excessively anxious)
- Weight fluctuations
- Bad breath or tooth decay
Eating disorders are both mental and physical diseases – they are not generally about food, but are likely to be a coping mechanism or a way for the sufferer to feel in control. Anybody of any age, gender, or background can develop an eating disorder and changes in behaviour are more likely to be noticeable before changes in appearance.
Whilst we should always encourage somebody suffering from an eating disorder to seek professional support, we can also help in the following ways:
- Eat with them whenever possible
- Encourage balanced nutritious meals that contain a variety of foods and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats)
- Plan the meal in advance with the individual, so that they know what to expect and what they will be eating
- Shop with them to help encourage them to buy a range of healthy foods
- Don’t talk about weight, body shape or size in front of them
- Start slowly – encourage them, but don’t pressurise them into eating or not eating
- Arrange to do something immediately after eating to take their mind off the food they have just eaten – go for a walk, play a game or watch a film
- Be supportive, but not overbearing – they need to be able to start trusting themselves to be alone
Where does the microbiome fit in?
We now know that our gut bacteria have a direct influence on our brain – and the ‘gut-brain’ axis is being considered as a possible influence on mental disorders, such as eating disorders.
The foods we eat also feed our gut microbiome and research have shown that people with eating disorders have altered gut bacteria, which then has the potential to impact the communication between our gut and our brain. This may result in a vicious cycle that ultimately increases gut imbalance, which reinforces changes in mood, which affects the way we eat, and so on.
As this cycle continues, it may lead to other health issues, which contribute further to negative feelings and low mood and also potentially result in physical difficulties when reintroducing foods, such as gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Supporting a more balanced gut microbiome may help to reduce both physical digestive symptoms and to impact the ‘cross-talk’ between the gut and the brain.
#LetsBeatThis #EDAW #BeatED
A note about EDNOS
When somebody has disordered eating that does not meet all the criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia, they are given an EDNOS diagnosis. The main difference with EDNOS is that sufferers may experience a range of disordered eating behaviours, which may change over time and can, therefore, be more difficult to identify.
More than half of people diagnosed with an eating disorder fall into this category and more people are diagnosed with EDNOS than both anorexia and bulimia combined.
Do you want to know more about Eating Disorder Awareness Week:
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ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107