Eating Disorders and Online Behaviour

According to the NHS, Eating disorders are where you or someone you know has ‘an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over your life and make you ill’.  The NHS have defined eating disorders in four main categories; the most common of which are:

Anorexia Nervosa is when a person tries to keep their weight or BMI as low as possible.  This is done by not consuming enough food, exercising too much, or sometimes a combination of both.

Bulimia is when a person can eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binging) and then deliberately make themselves sick.  The person can also use laxatives, restrict what they eat, or additionally do too much exercise to try to stop themselves from gaining weight.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)  is where a person regularly loses control of their eating.  They can also consume large portions of food all at once until they feel uncomfortably full.  This form of eating disorder can often have emotional connections with feelings of guilt or feeling ashamed after eating.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is where the person’s symptoms or behaviours do not precisely match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.  This does not mean it’s a less serious illness.

Online Body Image

Due to changes in how we consume and access information online, body image trends have emerged.  We can look at T.V Shows or social media feeds and, lets be honest, a lot of the bodies of people on there are unattainable in the real world, which can cause unrealistic expectations for viewers.  There are also a number of photo altering programmes and apps available to manipulate images, whether this is creating a smaller face, bigger buttocks or changing facial features.

Constantly comparing yourself to what people perceive as perfect online can make others feel inadequate, or feel like they have low self-esteem.  For this reason we need to teach young people not to believe everything they read or see online, as these images and videos can be easily manipulated.  Find out more about the social comparison theory.

Signs someone may have an eating disorder…

  • Is someone you know obsessing over their body image or constantly comparing themselves to their ‘perfect’ body image?
  • You may not notice if you see the person frequently but have they had a dramatic weight loss?  Remember this can be hidden using baggy clothes.
  • Are they excessively or obsessively exercising?
  • Is the person you know constantly documenting their weight loss online?
  • Do they have bruises on their knuckles?
  • Are they visiting pro-eating disorder websites or forums?
  • Do they follow a lot of weight loss profiles or pages?
  • Do they lie about the quantity of food they have eaten, when they have eaten, or additionally how much they weigh?
  • Does the person you know eat a lot of food very fast?
  • Does the person you know go to the bathroom/use the toilet facilities a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed?
  • Does the person avoid eating with others?
  • Do they cut food into small pieces, moving it around their plate or eating very slowly?
  • Do they complain about being dizzy?

What you can do if someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder…

If you feel at any time that your child is in harm, please get professional advice immediately.  Do not try to deal with this on your own.  Talk to professionals and people you trust about the right course of action for you and your child, as you may need a little help too.  If you feel like your child is going through a distressing time, this can impact on you as a parent and you may also need someone to talk to yourself.

Who can you contact if your child may have an eating disorder?

If you feel like your child is in imediate danger, please dial 999 or the relevant professional body. To find out more information from the following organisations, click on the buttons below.

Need help with any other digital issues?  Find out more.

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