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Third of adults don't know any eating disorder signs or symptoms, survey finds

Few people could correctly name one psychological symptom

Olivia Petter
Monday 26 February 2018 12:36 GMT

New research has revealed that 34 per cent of UK adults are unable to correctly identify the symptoms of an eating disorder.

Commissioned by Beat, the YouGov survey of 2,108 adults also found that 79 per cent who could name signs were unable to name any psychological symptoms, citing only physical ones.

Respondents were twice as likely to list weight loss or appearing thin over any other symptom, such as low self-esteem or becoming obsessive about food.

“This research has showed us that in the UK many people still do not know how to identify an eating disorder in its early stages,” explained Andrew Radford, Beat’s chief executive.

“These results are worrying because we know lack of awareness can stop sufferers getting the treatment they desperately need as soon as possible.”

Some of the most common psychological symptoms, as listed on Beat’s website, include irritability, exhaustion and difficulty concentrating.

“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and when people are treated quickly after falling ill, they are much more likely to have a fast and sustained recovery,” Radford continued.

“Today, we are asking that the Government and NHS invest in measures to increase awareness of the early signs and symptoms, heightened awareness will not only improve outcomes for those suffering but also prove cost effective for the services treating patients.”

The research marks the beginning of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which Beat hope will spread awareness of the myriad forms of eating disorders and encourage people to recognise symptoms early on.

"Eating disorders can be quite a misunderstood illness and can also be difficult to recognise," explains leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert.

"Ultimately, more information around eating disorders needs to be highlighted, and we should be more aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for," the Re-Nourish author told The Independent.

"These are life threatening illnesses that should be addressed at the earliest stage possible to ensure that the individual receives the help they need. The role of your doctor, psychologist and nutrition professional all plays a key part in helping aid recovery, they must work together."

When 18-year-old Rachel developed an eating disorder at school, she explains how her condition went completely unnoticed to friends and teachers.

“They simply thought I was stressed about my GCSEs leading to my increased isolation, depression and weight loss,” she said.

“Even once I was diagnosed my parents questioned it and my mum always says she wishes she would have known what to look for.”

In addition to the psychological symptoms, there are a number of behavioural signs which Beat suggest may indicate an eating disorder, these include:

  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Compromise of education and employment plans
  • Strict dieting and avoiding food they think is fattening
  • Mood swings

For more information about the different types of eating disorders and the varying symptoms, visit Beat’s website here.

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