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Are you or your child anorexic?

Comfort eating, not liking how you look and feeling that life would be that little bit better if only you were 10lbs lighter; we can probably all relate to these at some point in our lives. So are we all at risk of developing an eating disorder?

Well, seeing weight loss as a route to happiness, being critical of your appearance and having a preoccupation with food are all among the signs of anorexia. But there are other far more serious, and more telling, symptoms to look out for.

Often anorexics will measure or weigh everything they eat, and develop ‘rituals’ like having to cut everything up into tiny pieces – or they might try to hide their eating habits and find excuses to avoid mealtimes with other people. Someone with anorexia nervosa may look at themselves in the mirror and see a completely different picture than what everyone else sees. They’ll continue dieting – or over-exercising – even when underweight. In fact, their obsession with controlling their food intake, and losing weight, will take over their lives at the expense of their relationships with those around them.

SCOFF questionnaire

If you’re concerned you may have an eating disorder, than try out the ‘SCOFF’ questionnaire used by doctors, which asks:

  • Do you make yourself Sick because you’re uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry that you’ve lost Control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than 6 kilograms (about One stone) in three months?
  • Do you believe you’re Fat when others say you’re thin?
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life?

If you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these questions, you may have an eating disorder and should seek medical help and advice. And if this sounds like you, then you’re far from alone.

Current figures show that around one in 250 women and one in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. The condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17 but, worryingly, experts say that 40 in 100,000 10 to 14-year-olds are diagnosed with eating disorders, including anorexia.


The side effects of anorexia

The effects of anorexia on a sufferer’s body and mind can be shocking, and even life-threatening. Physically you’ll have dry skin, brittle nails and thinning hair. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss. Your internal systems will take a battering with effects including constipation, anaemia, kidney failure and even heart failure. And alongside severe mood swings and depression, you could also suffer from memory problems. Hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 16% in England from 2011 to 2012 and there are four NHS units in the UK set up to meet the demand for a specialist in-patient service for young people. And, experts say, anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness, accounting for more deaths in the UK than alcohol, substance abuse and depression combined.

Why do people suffer with anorexia?

Clearly this is not a pretty picture. So what causes anorexia? Unsurprisingly there’s no easy answer to this, except to say that eating disorders tend not to be simply about weight and food. Some people with anorexia may be using their obsession with weight loss to avoid dealing with troubled relationships or traumas in their lives. Factors such as emotional insecurity, loneliness, the pressure to be ‘perfect’ and feeling out of control can all play a part – and of course no amount of calorie-counting or abdominal crunches can fix those.

Perhaps most pertinently for us mums and dads, there’s also evidence to suggest that parental pressure and having parents who place a lot of emphasis on looks and dieting for themselves, might pre-dispose a young person to develop an eating disorder.

That’s why it’s so important that we control our dieting behaviour, however mild or extreme (but of course get help for your own eating disorders) when we’re around our children. Our role should to be to focus on healthy eating, educate them about what our bodies and brains get from different foodstuffs and why we need a balanced diet, and emphasise healthy levels of exercise. We need to make sure that food is just ‘food’ for our kids, rather than becoming either the enemy or an emotional crutch.

And these are lessons we can all take heed of, to keep our feelings and insecurities out of the kitchen and off the bathroom scales.










About Alison McKay

About Alison McKay

Alison McKay is a charity PR professional with over 15 years' experience in full-time, part-time and jobshare roles. Since being made redundant while on maternity leave, she has divided her time between working for a local museum, freelance and volunteer writing, and being chief wrangler to a two-year-old mud-magnet and an almost-seven-year-old wannabe dog-care worker with a penchant for hair accessories. Alison's hobbies include yoga, reading cookery books and putting away just enough clean laundry to keep the pile below 3ft tall.

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