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…..and how you can help

The prospect of talking to clients about eating disorders may be daunting but recognising the signs and knowing how to broach the subject could be life changing, says Loren Byford.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that occur when eating, exercise and bodyweight or shape become an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life. The Costs of Eating Disorders – Social, Health and Economic Impacts report , commissioned by Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, and produced by PwC in February 2015, estimates that more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.

The four main eating disorders are:
  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • binge eating disorder
  • other specified feeding and eating disorders.


What classifies as compulsive exercise?

If someone is exercising despite illness or injury, or experiencing anxiety and distress over missed workouts, they may be displaying signs of an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Compulsive exercise is not an eating disorder; however, people who are compulsively exercising often experience a range of eating disorder-related symptoms, like unhealthy eating patterns, social withdrawal and body image concerns. Sometimes people engaging in compulsive exercise have poor body image, so language and behaviour suggestive of such a perception is also something to look out for.

What to look for

  • Preoccupation with weight, body shape or composition
  • Sudden or frequent changes in weight
  • Taking supplements for weight loss/gain or performance enhancement
  • Becoming anxious about missed sessions or disruption to exercise

How to approach someone

  • Be prepared. Read up about eating disorders, body image and other mental health issues.
  • Pick an appropriate time and place for the conversation, being mindful of confidentiality.
  • Be calm, open and honest and use specific examples of things you have noticed.
  • Listen to their response and don’t take it personally if they get angry or upset.
  • Have contact details for UK organisations such as Beat ( or Anorexia Bulimia ( at the ready in case they are ready to seek support.


Loren Byford MPsych, BPsych (Hons) is an experienced psychologist working with Eating Disorders Victoria. She treats a wide range of issues, from anxiety to sleep problems, but has a special interest in treating and preventing eating disorders and related issues in young people. or