Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2024

Eating Disorder Awareness Week is an annual international event. It strives to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and educate on eating disorders. Eating disorders are a mental illness that impacts 1 in 50 people in the UK.

The chance of full recovery from an eating disorder is significantly more likely with early intervention. We currently rely on GPs to identify the early warning signs. These seldom relate to weight or appearance – these more stereotypical traits of an eating disorder are often more prevalent in cases that are more developed, where early intervention is less effective. 

To make matters worse, GPs receive less than 2 hours of eating disorder-related training. This makes it even more difficult to spot the signs early on.

In light of this, EDAW strives to educate everyone on eating disorders. This is so that the warning signs are identified sooner rather than later, allowing for the best chance of recovery, or even prevention.

Last year’s focus was on Eating Disorders in Men. This year, the topic selected by Beat (a UK-based eating disorder charity) is a lesser-known eating disorder – ARFID.

What is ARFID?

ARFID stands for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. It’s a condition characterised by avoidance of certain foods or certain types of foods or restricting intake in terms of the amount eaten – or both.

The avoidance/restriction of food can come about for a variety of reasons;

  • Sensory issues – an individual might experience extreme discomfort due to the taste, texture, smell, or appearance of certain foods, or only consume foods at a certain temperature, which can lead to sensory-based avoidance.
  • Previous trauma – ARFID is common in those who have had a distressing experience with food, such as choking, vomiting, or gastrointestinal issues. This can lead to fear or anxiety around food of certain textures/similarities to that of the initial incident, which can result in consequence-based avoidance. For example, if a child choked on a piece of spaghetti, they may avoid eating all similar types of pasta, or pasta altogether, or even foods of a similar colour/texture, which could extend to rice, noodles, potatoes, etc. 
  • Poor appetite – if someone has problems recognising their hunger or a poor appetite in general, eating may be more of a chore, resulting in restricted intake due to low interest in eating. 

ARFID often looks very different from person to person, with some perhaps having a combination of the reasons above. As such, ‘ARFID’ tends to be an umbrella term, including a range of severities. 

It’s important to note that ARFID is a more secondary diagnosis – those who experience general anxiety disorder (GAD) or depression that leads to a suppressed appetite will not be diagnosed with ARFID, as the suppression is perceived to be due to a comorbid condition that prevails over ARFID.

Similarly, ARFID would not be diagnosed in those who have to avoid certain foods for religious or health reasons (such as Ramadan, allergies, or religious/cultural restrictions).

Impact on Health

As one can imagine, if the avoidance/restriction of food is severe, it can have a huge impact on the nutritional status of the individual. This will depend on how severe a case it is.

If the variety of foods they can eat is significantly limited, they may not be able to get the essential nutrients their body needs through the diet that helps them function on a daily basis. It may also lead to weight loss, or prevent weight gain and growth in children.

All of this can, in turn, impact other aspects of life, such as school or work, holidays, and even simple things like going out for dinner. 

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can impact not only the individual, but also the support network around that individual. The sooner that they get help, the higher their chances of recovery are. This is why awareness of the different types of eating disorders is so important.

If you are concerned about a friend or loved one’s eating habits, Beat has some guidance on broaching the subject here. If you are worried about yourself, you can do so through their website here

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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