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Notes from a Mental Health Nurse: Eating Disorders

19 June 19 words: Notes from a Mental Health Nurse
illustrations: Liv Auckland

Each month, our anonymous mental nurse, who has over two decades on experience working in Nottingham, will deal with a specific mental health issue with practical, accessible advice. This month, it's eating disorders...

It might sound odd, but eating disorders can be helpful. Initially. Not eating, over eating, excessive exercise, laxative use, and finding somewhere quiet to be sick are all examples that can focus the mind. Maybe you’ve found that food management is something that you are really good at. Maybe it helps you to cope when things are tough. Maybe you start to feel more in control over at least one aspect of your life. At the same time, when life is tough, comfort eating is a way of satisfying a need with instant gratification.

At first there’s nothing better than comments of, “Hey, you look good. Have you lost some weight?” However, the problems start when eating habits escalate, take over and become the only focus. Thinking becomes centred on “What do I eat?” “When can I go for a run?” “Who’s in the toilet as I need to be sick?” The anxiety of managing this turmoil can be overwhelming, causing panic attacks and low mood.

People start to reduce their social life, as it no longer fits in with their eating pattern or calorie count. Friends and family start to feel put out or rejected. You stop getting invited out. Life starts to get smaller. And lonelier. Sadly, this often leads to the eating problem escalating, there are less people to dilute your thoughts.
Feeling guilty or ashamed can be a huge barrier; yet underlying any eating problem is a sadness or concern that needs addressing. The sooner this happens the better, as any habit is hard to change.

Where do you start? You could speak to a friend, or if that’s too much then check out helpful organisations such as Beat or Mind. They can offer advice, information or signpost you to locally accessible services.

Beat Eating Disorders website

Mind website

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