Anorexia took over my life – these are the signs and symptoms to know | The Sun

Anorexia took over my life – these are the signs and symptoms to know | The Sun

THERE'S no avoiding it – we need to eat to survive, after all – but food can be a debilitating issue for lots of people.

According to eating disorder charity Beat, around 1.25 million Brits – 75% of them women – are suffering from an eating disorder.

And sadly, this figure is on the rise. In 2022, NHS figures revealed hospital admissions for people with eating disorders in England had risen 84% over the past five years. 

Why the spike?

“We have seen a huge rise in social media platforms based on external validation,” says Samantha Bloom, nutritionist and founder of Bloom Nutrition.

And the pandemic didn’t help, either.

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Eating disorder specialist and director of mental health for Schoen Clinic UK Group, Rachel Matthews, says the stress and isolation caused a “perfect storm”, adding: “Messaging around maintaining healthy routines, including daily exercise, added to the pressures people faced.”

In fact, demand for NHS treatment rocketed by two-thirds compared to pre-pandemic rates.

Today is the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and whether you’re worried about a friend, family member or colleague, or feel you may have a problem yourself, here’s what you need to know…

Common Disorders

While anyone can develop an eating disorder at any point in their life, they often kick in during young adulthood and emotionally tricky times.

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“Young people with more rigid thinking styles and perfectionist traits may be more at risk of responding to difficulties through their eating,” says Rachel. 

“Perfect” body images on social media can play a role, while some studies suggest there’s a genetic link, too.

But, often, eating disorders develop as a “solution” to cope with feelings like powerlessness, grief or guilt. 

The most common eating disorders are:

Anorexia nervosa

People with anorexia aim to keep their weight as low as possible by undereating, overexercising, or both.

“It can lead to hair loss, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, being prone to feeling unwell, and often results in anxiety or depression. Individuals with anorexia have a fear of being a normal body weight,” says Rachel.

Bulimia nervosa

People with bulimia will compulsively binge eat and impulsively crave food.

“Unhealthy compensatory behaviours are often used in an attempt to prevent weight gain, such as purging by way of self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives,” says Rachel.

It can lead to dental problems, bad breath, irregular periods, dry hair and muscle spasms. 

Binge eating disorder (BED)

“BED is characterised by recurrent episodes of compulsive overeating – to the point of feeling uncomfortable, feeling out of control while doing so, feeling shame, distress, or guilt afterwards,” says Rachel.

It can lead to obesity, which can cause type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, like breast and bowel.

What to look for

“Like most mental health issues, the signs to look out for are changes in behaviour,” says Rachel.

The person may avoid or withdraw from social activities, have an increased preoccupation with food, disappear after meals, skip meals, have mood changes and exercise more than normal.

Excessive cooking is another sign.

“People with anorexia often enjoy making food, but rarely eat it and get others to eat instead,” says Samantha.

“Other signs include excessive water drinking, constantly weighing themselves and wearing baggy clothes that disguise their body shape.”

Worried about your own relationship with food?

Be alert to a need for control, fear around food, feeling on edge and general anxiety.

“A sufferer might have body dysmorphia, thinking and feeling they are heavy, and may feel guilty about what they’ve eaten,” adds Samantha.

“People with anorexia are classically A-type personalities with a strong need for perfection.”

If you realise you have issues with food and eating that are affecting your day-to-day life, speak to your GP about treatment options, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and talking therapies, including family therapy.

Also check out or call Beat’s helpline on 0808 801 0677.

How to help

It is daunting approaching a loved one you’re worried about.

“Be prepared that they may not be ready to talk. Let them know you’ve noticed the behaviour change and are there when they feel able to engage,” says Rachel. 

“The best way to approach it is through love and kindness – and sometimes tough love. Often a person with an eating disorder will have entrenched thinking and may need help to see patterns,” adds Samantha.

“You can’t force someone to go to the doctor, but eating disorders can be overcome, so long as the individual wants to get better and accepts they have a problem, which is often the biggest battle.” 

Beat suggests chatting to the person in a safe place, not just before or after a meal, and make sure you avoid focusing on food or weight.

Be patient and try not to get frustrated.

Instead, ask: “How are you feeling?” and let them know you will support them.

Don’t comment on how they look or try forcing them to eat – it could make them feel less able to open up and seek help. 

‘Anorexia took over my life’

Melissa Matson, 35, is a brand strategist from Hertfordshire.

She suffered from anorexia on and off aged 16 to 22.

“I was in denial about my eating disorder.

“I only sought support because my parents staged an intervention when I was 16.

“They could see I was very thin and had been trying to control food – my own or others’ – for over a year.

“I agreed to go to the doctor, but when he said I had anorexia, I didn’t believe it – in my eyes, I was simply ‘eating healthily’.

“Over the next few years it finally sunk in.

“Food was controlling me and I didn’t want to live like that any more – it was too exhausting.

“Anorexia was taking over my life. 

“Looking back, no one thing started it – a perfectionist attitude, the ’90s/’00s ‘skinny’ culture, a desire to fit in at school, the ability to control something in my life when I felt out of control… the list goes on.

“My version of ‘healthy eating’ became restrictive eating.

“Meals out caused me severe anxiety.

“Food consumed the majority of my waking thoughts.

“My full recovery took a long time.

“There were relapses triggered by high-stress situations, like exams, and a strong desire to achieve. 

“I received therapy, enrolled in CBT for eating disorders and worked with a nutritionist.

“It’s often assumed that once you’ve ‘recovered’ from a mental illness, you won’t need any further support.

“In my experience, the long-term emotional and mental impact can’t be underestimated.

“It’s taken time to regain the confidence and rebuild the self-esteem I lost during that time.

“For example, I used to hate having my photo taken and I was always super-critical of what I saw in the mirror. 

“Now, I’m a totally different person.

“I run my own business and show up every day on camera, live-streaming and teaching others.

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“When I get overwhelmed, instead of controlling my food intake, I grab a pen and write out everything that’s in my head, a total brain dump.

"“Once my thoughts are on paper, they always seem a lot more manageable.” 

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