Eating disorders

Messages to health professionals about eating disorders

Young people we spoke with often had experience of dealing with many different types of health professionals including: 

• GPs
• nurses
• counsellors
• psychologists
• psychiatrists
• nutritionists 
• social workers 
• other support workers. 
Based on their personal experiences they were keen to pass on messages about how health services for other young people could be improved.
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Read below
‘Treat the whole person’

“I think the main thing is to treat people as people. Everyone’s different, everyone’s an individual, we’re not goals or anything like that. We all have our different needs and I think it’s important that those needs are addressed.” Craig
Above all else, young people wanted not just to be seen as “an eating disorder” but to be treated as a whole person. It was important that people felt they were treated as individuals and for health professionals to realise everyone “reacted in different ways”. A good health professional was able to suggest different treatments and find solutions in ways that suited the individual they were trying to help.
Feeling respected and that they were being listened to was important during treatment and recovery. People wanted professionals to take their time and find out what was going on for that particular person, and not to make assumptions. James said that it was important to listen and let people speak and explain things from their perspective. Those who had been young when they developed, and got treated for, an eating disorder sometimes felt patronised and not asked their opinion about their care. Eva said it was a good idea to ask about other things, such as hobbies and other interests, and not just be limited to medical facts and information.
People with eating disorders often struggled with self-confidence and felt unworthy of the doctors’ attention and time. They described how important it was to be taken seriously and never be blamed for any of their problems. People said it was easy to tell when a health professional showed genuine interest in their wellbeing.
‘Look beyond weight’

Many people we spoke with had come across health professionals who had the wrong facts about eating disorders. A common misconception people came across was the idea that people with eating disorders were always very underweight. Many had found this made it hard to get treatment and support or even being taken seriously by their doctor. Sometimes the doctor hadn’t looked for further eating disorder signs such as behaviours and thoughts if their weight was not severely low. Katie emphasised how important it was for all health professionals to understand that eating disorders are about emotions and behaviours, not just about weight.
Rebekah wanted doctors to be more aware of the range of different eating disorders. Suzanne reminded professionals that some people might only have some signs of disordered eating rather than a full blown eating disorder. If recognised, these people could be helped earlier.

Some young people felt that the only way for them to be taken seriously and be able to access eating disorder services was to lose more weight. This had serious consequences as people knew from past experience that the more weight they lost, the harder it was for them to be able to seek or accept any help  (see ‘Realising something was wrong and seeking help’).

‘Develop expertise and knowledge in eating disorders’

Some people found that their treatment had been delayed or that their diagnosis was poorly explained because of lack of knowledge or understanding of eating disorders. For many, a school nurse or GP was the first point of contact. This first contact with services was often a huge step for a young person and the way they were treated at this point could have a lasting, positive or negative, impact. They felt that it was important for health professionals to realise just how hard asking for help was and to help nurture and support their confidence to stay in contact with services.
Fiona-Grace urged GPs to learn more about recognising the signs of eating disorders. Zoe emphasised that professionals needed to react quickly when there was a problem. Overall, people emphasised that “early intervention was key”. This could be achieved when health practitioners were knowledgeable, well-trained, sensitive and proactive. James urged doctors to be more aware of men and eating disorders when they assess young men coming to their clinic (see Myths about eating disorders’).

Last reviewed October 2018.


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