What do you wish your doctor had done/said to help you with your relationship with food?

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and the theme for the week is ensuring that all health professionals receive appropriate and complete training on eating disorders. The national eating disorder charity BEAT are campaigning for all UK medical schools to introduce training on eating disorders into their curriculum. I would take this one step further and suggest that all health professionals receive training on disordered eating and not just eating disorders (i.e. where an individual doesn't meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder but still has irregular or erratic eating patterns and their relationship with food has a negative impact on their mental health).


I can appreciate that doctors and other health professionals have very busy schedules and through no fault of their own, they often don't receive any training on eating disorders or disordered eating. However, how a doctor or health professional first interacts with some struggling with their relationship with food, can have a huge impact on whether that individual is able to access appropriate support and make a full recovery. In my experience of working with individuals struggling with there relationship with food, these are ways in which other medical professionals could have helped them or supported them with their eating disorder or disordered eating:


- By knowing how damaging statements around weight can be: Many of my clients struggling with binge-eating disorder or binge-eating report to me how often they have told that they "need to lose weight" by their doctor or another health professional. Whilst this is very well-meaning advice, for someone that is struggling with an eating disorder, this can be extremely harmful and triggering. Often what drives binge-eating is food restriction i.e. an individual will starve themselves and put themselves on a very restrictive diet but then feel very hungry and end up bingeing as a result. Bingeing is a very primitive mechanism, designed to keep us alive in times of famine. In order to treat the binge-eating and break this pattern, it is necessary to free someone from this restrict-binge cycle. However, when an individual is told that they need to lose weight, they can end up putting themselves on yet another diet or restrictive meal plan and their binge-eating can get much worse as a result. Therefore discussion around weight can be very harmful for those struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating.


- By not recommending restrictive diet plans: Many clients tell me that their doctors or other health professionals have recommended that they go on fasts, cut out food groups or join another weight loss programme that eliminates most fats from their diet. Not only can these recommendations make conditions such as binge-eating and bulimia much worse, they can also make individuals scared of entire food groups. I have seen a significant rise lately in "orthorexia" which is a condition where an individual's diet becomes extremely restrictive with their diet in the pursuit of good "health".


- By listening and making them feel seen and heard: One of the saddest things that I hear from my clients is that sometimes they have felt as though their concerns are trivial or that they have been discouraged for seeking out or accessing help as they are a "normal" weight. When someone is struggling with any mental health related issue one of the most valuable things that medical professionals can offer that individual is a space in which they feel seen, heard and validated. It is often only with this feeling of validation that they will then go on to find appropriate help and look to recover.


- By spotting the signs and on-referring them for appropriate help: Receiving training in eating disorders would help medical professionals to spot the signs of an eating disorder or to ask questions to deter