Emily-Jane Cramphorn, a Second Year Science and Engineering Fast Streamer, shines a light on Eating Disorders Awareness Week as an important time to give a voice to those living with misunderstood and often invisible illnesses
As a Science and Engineering Fast Streamer, I am a member of the Government Science and Engineering Profession. Stereotypes around who can work in science are pervasive, but the reality is that scientists, like humanity, are diverse, which is why I wanted to write this blog. I am a scientist and I also live with anorexia nervosa, a mental illness which many associate with creative industries like fashion. The first week of March is always an important date in my diary: not only does it signal that winter is coming to an end, it is the UK’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW). Having lived with an eating disorder for almost 17 years, EDAW is an important time for me as it is one of the few times real conversations about eating disorders take place outside of tired tropes and outdated narratives.
Eating disorders tend to be sensationalised in the media and misunderstood by the general public. What is more, research shows that there is a large gap in medical education when it comes to eating disorders, with medical students spending an average of 1.8 days learning about eating disorders and only 1% of medical students undertaking rotations in specialist eating disorder services. Among the biggest misconceptions are that eating disorders are a phase for teenage girls, that they are driven by vanity, and that all sufferers are thin. Notably, many people have expressed to me that they thought eating disorders were rare despite at least 1.6 million people in the UK suffer with an eating disorder and with the true number likely to be much higher as eating disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated. From my experience, people are often shocked to learn that whilst eating disorders are most common in young women they affect people from all demographics, yet what people find most shocking is that the majority of people with eating disorders are not visibly underweight - most people believe eating disorders to be synonymous with anorexia but in reality, anorexia accounts for a minority of eating disorder cases.
The most prevalent eating disorders are other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED, previously called EDNOS), binge eating disorder, and bulimia, with which most sufferers are not underweight. That is why this year, B-eat has focused their EDAW campaign on binge eating disorder, which affects 1 in 50 people yet only 1 in 4 sufferers ever receives treatment, which is likely due to a combination of stigma and shame, eating disorder myths, and lack of awareness. At present, 1 in 6 people with binge eating disorder have attempted suicide, which is over double the rate for the general population. This is why both EDAW and charities like B-eat are so important, especially at a time when our health service is under unprecedented pressure and people are isolated from their loved ones. Indeed, B-eat have experienced a 73% increase in calls to their helpline during the pandemic.
You can find out more about or support B-eat’s work and EDAW campaign here.
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