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People affected by eating disorders are being urged to seek support, during national Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which starts today (Feb 11).

It’s thought that more than 1.6 million people in the UK suffer with eating disorders.

However, there are many sources of support for those struggling with this form of illness.

Sam Clark-Stone, Lead Clinician with ²gether NHS Foundation Trust’s Eating Disorders Service, based in Cheltenham, said eating disorders are surprisingly common.

“Eating disorders are relatively common, particularly in adolescent girls, which is the typical image people have when they think of this condition,” he said.

“However, while most eating disorders start in adolescence, they can start in early adulthood and sometimes later. Boys and men do also develop eating disorders, although this is less common.

“Eating disorders can be very debilitating and have a lasting impact, both physically and mentally, as well as socially and in terms of education and employment.

“The condition can be very hard to treat as the person affected often doesn’t see themselves as ill. Adolescents are usually brought to see us by their parents, although they often don’t want to attend appointments.

“As well as professional health services, there are also a number of support groups in existence, so I would urge anyone who has an eating disorder or anyone who believes someone they know has one to seek help.”

Eating disorders – which include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating – mean the sufferer judges their self-worth in terms of their weight, shape and control of eating.

Treatments include family based therapy – where family members are supported to help the sufferer to eat normally and gain weight – admission to a hospital or day unit to save someone from the physical ill effects of weight loss, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

There are a number of support groups for people with eating disorders, including the Gloucestershire Beat (Eating Disorders Association) Support Group, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.

The group is run by Pat Ayres MBE, a ²gether Public Governor, from Kemble. Pat set up the group after her own experience of caring for her daughter, who had an eating disorder for 10 years.

The group meets in Cirencester on the first Wednesday of each month.

Pat said: “We always welcome new people into our group. I know from personal experience how traumatic and isolating supporting someone with an eating disorder can be, and I’m pleased we’ve been able to offer help to those suffering for such a long time.”

Anyone concerned a loved one or friend may be suffering from an eating disorder can look out for the following warning signs:

· Weight loss
· Dizziness, tiredness and fainting
· Feeling cold
· Strange behaviour around food
· Hiding, collecting and storing food
· Secretive eating
· Excessive exercising
· Fear of gaining weight
· Self dislike
· Moodiness
· Excessive perfectionism

To read about ²gether’s Eating Disorders Service click here.

²gether also runs a support group for adults and carers of those with eating disorders. The group meets in Cheltenham fortnightly on Tuesday evenings. For further information please ring 01242 634242.

To find out more about the Gloucestershire EDA Support Group please click here or ring Pat Ayres on 01285 770385.