Increase in people seeking help for eating disorders

The number of people attending support services at Bodywhys, the Irish Association for Eating Disorders, rose 55 per cent last year, the latest figures show.

Emails to the Bodywhys service from people seeking help for their eating disorders also increased by 71 percent in 2021.

Participation in the Bodywhys support group PiLaR (Peer Led Resilience), which helps people with eating disorders and their families and carers, has increased by 125 percent over the same period.

The numbers have been released Sunday independent ahead of the Bodywhys annual report to be released in the coming weeks.

The association also reports a significant increase in the number of adults seeking help for binge eating disorder (BED).

Speaking of Sunday independent This weekend, Harriet Parsons, the training and development manager at Bodywhys, said: “We are finding there is an increase in adults presenting with what we would classify as binge eating disorder.

“For many, this can mean restricting food throughout the week and then overeating at the weekend. It also includes people who overexert themselves as a cleaning behavior. These are people who feel like their relationship with food is not okay and has become destructive to them.”

Ms Parsons said BED can be as “difficult and entrenched and just as dangerous” as anorexia. “People with BED often get caught up in the weight and diet culture, so by the time they realize there’s a bigger problem going on, they’ve already gone through all the weight loss and calorie counting groups.

“They’ve tried every single diet they can and they’re starting to realize it’s not just about the food and their willpower. It can be very annoying for them. When they contact us, they want us to listen, but they also want us to acknowledge that such an eating disorder exists.”

BED was only recently classified as an eating disorder. According to the HSE, it involves eating large portions at one time on a regular basis until the person feels uncomfortably full. This is often followed by feelings of excitement and guilt.

Binges are often planned, and the person may purchase “special” binge foods that they often eat alone or in secret.

Ms Parsons said the “classic stereotype” that people have of eating disorders “has disappeared” as we become more aware that “anyone can be of any weight and have an eating disorder”.

She explained the “subtle” difference between normal overeating behaviors experienced by the general population and behaviors that are “pathological, harmful and destructive”.

“The main difference is that the behavior feels compulsive. It’s not just about eating a lot, but really asking yourself if there’s an imperative that “I have to do it” or “I can’t not”. Then you have to ask yourself why a person is engaging in this behavior and how they would feel if they tried to stop it,” she said.

“That’s the difference between someone who has a normal eating disorder and having something that’s more in the eating disorder realm.”

Ms Parsons said the impact of the pandemic was still being felt despite restrictions being lifted.

“There’s something about this time when things are getting ‘normal’ that people find difficult,” she said.

Participation in the Bodywhys PiLaR family program increased by 125 percent last year. Since 2014, the association has been running the program to support relatives and friends of people with eating disorders. The next program starts this Wednesday and participation is free.

It enables people who know someone with an eating disorder to gain skills to meet the challenges of supporting that person. Increase in people seeking help for eating disorders

Fry Electronics Team

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