How can I tell if I have an eating disorder?
Professor John Morgan at Leeds Partnership NHS Foundation Trust designed the SCOFF screening tool to indicate a possible eating disorder.
The SCOFF questionnaire asks these simple questions:
– Do you ever make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
– Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
– Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three month period?
– Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
– Would you say that Food dominates your life?
If you answered YES to two or more of the questions above, then it may be possible that you have an eating disorder.
What should I do next?
The best thing you can do is talk to someone you love and trust. Ask them if they will go to see your GP with you. Your GP will refer you to a specialist service within your area that can help you on the path to recovery. Below are some stories of people who have been through eating disorders and come out the other side. Watch Mary-Kate’s story. She suffered in her teenage years and early adulthood with an eating disorder.
My favourite website that is solely dedicated to eating disorders is:
Why not pop over and have a look.
I caught up with Jane, a 32- year-old mum from Newcastle.
Read her story as she shares what life with an eating disorder was like for her and how she is now on the road to recovery.
Can you give us an introduction to who you are and what you do?
I’m 32, mum to a fantastic and extremely energetic 7-year- old, now living in a very rural part of the country. I work for an organisation that encourages people to lead a more active lifestyle. It’s a fantastic role where I get to see first-hand how being healthy and more active changes peoples’ health, confidence and resilience.
When did you first notice you had a problem with eating?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my ED first started but I’d say it was when I first went to high school that weight and food started becoming an issue. I also had a really big appetite and was a slightly chunky child. When I went to high school I started to feel different to the majority of girls who seemed extremely slim and glamorous! I do remember one specific time when I was waiting at a bus stop on the way home from school and just had this overwhelming feeling of being ‘fat’ and that I needed to do something about it. It was then that I started eating less and less.
I found that as I lost weight, I started becoming more popular with the girls at school and the thinner I got, the more popular I seemed to be. I suppose this became a motivator to keep going with the weight loss and restriction. I didn’t realise how restricting my food so severely and the rapid weight loss would affect my health at the time, or now. It seemed an easy way to be ‘in control’ of my life. Before I knew it, anorexia had overtaken my thoughts and it seemed impossible to think about much else. My worst point in my teens was when I was doing my GCSEs when my weight really plummeted. Somehow I managed to get through my exams and achieve very good grades but my health was affected in strange ways – I even lost my voice for a good few months!
What inspired you to get well?
When I was a teenager, it was the threat of hospital that initially triggered my recovery, as well as the fact that I felt so ill and knew I wouldn’t be able to continue my studies if I didn’t get better. I managed to regain weight when I was 17 and kept a healthy and stable weight up until I was 26. I thought I was rid of my anorexia and didn’t often give it a second thought – I ate what I wanted, when I wanted and was a slim size 8/10.
My eating disorder began to creep in again after my daughter was born. She was about 4 months old when life started getting very tough; my husband and I both got made redundant in the same month and this meant everything we thought was secure became very insecure. We really struggled for money and couldn’t pay our mortgage and we had to prioritise. As our daughter’s needs came first, she always had what she needed, but it meant that sometimes we went without food and this triggered my eating disorder again. It became easier not to eat and at the time my starving body and brain helped me to deal with some difficult feelings – low self esteem and lots of guilt about not being a good enough mum, wife, daughter. I dind’t feelgood enough at anything really. The lower my weight was, the less I felt anything and it became like a protective bubble.
I reached crisis point when my daughter was two. I knew I was unwell and a friend finally convinced me to go to the doctor. Because my weight had dropped rapidly and below the BMI cut off point for outpatient support, I was instantly admitted to an inpatient unit where I spent a couple of months. It was so tough being so far away from my daughter, not working and also having all the control taken away from me; but I believe that the treatment I had probably saved my life. I gained about 10kgs and was nearly up to a ‘non-anorexic’ weight when I left hospital, however the underlying issues were still there and my home life was still very up and down. I sustained a state of semi starvation for about 4 years – being heavy enough not to be in hospital, working hard, joining in all of the activities with my daughter; but too light to fully live, enjoy things and feel healthy.
About a year ago I once again hit a crisis point where I lost some weight and became seriously hypothermic – I was admitted to hospital again for a three month period.
Since leaving hospital, it has been a challenge to start to overcome my eating disorder for good – it has had such a grip on my life for so long. My inspiration for recovery is to live life! I’ve found that no matter how much I’ve tried to convince myself that I can continue to live at an extremely low weight, it is not sustainable and leads to crisis after crisis. I want to be able to fully participate in live – to not just ‘get by’ but to fully feel and enjoy everything I do and this is only possible with full weight restoration and by tackling what’s caused me to stay trapped in this insidious disorder.
Getting better is a journey and it’s still hard; I’m not there yet. The hardest bits are not to do with the food and eating, they are expressing how I really feel, starting to stand up for myself and starting to believe in myself. I have had exceptional support from friends who are there for me no matter how crazy I am, and that makes all the difference. My relationship with my daughter is getting better and better and that inspires me to keep going – she can see me getting healthier and being able to join in more; she can see that I’m more ‘switched on’ and we love our girlie times together. My journey has made me who I am and I am really grateful that I’ve gone through it and I’m coming out of the other side. It has been the hardest time of my life, sometimes filled with despair and the fear of never getting better. But when I began to see that the possibility to recover was within my reach, it was incredible!
What have been some of the consequences of your eating disorder?
My illness has had lots of short term and long term effects and unfortunately, some of them are not reversible. Short term symptoms and consequences included heart irregularities, extreme tiredness and coldness, inability to think properly, inability to work full time, dizziness and tummy problems. Consequences that have lasted and are still on-going include… irregular periods which will probably mean I can’t have any more children, osteoporosis (thinning of bones), allergy to gluten, tummy sensitivities (I’m not able to eat all the things I used to without sickness or diarrhoea), extreme coldness- I am constantly in woolly jumpers. I think the worst part of the ED is definitely the fact that I missed out on so much living. I can’t get these years back, but I CAN change the future.
What advice would you give to anyone reading this who may be struggling with starvation and / or purging?
I know an eating disorder is much more than about being thin and EDs start for many different reasons for different people. If you have started having any symptoms of an ED or are thinking about your eating a lot, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Eating disorders can destroy lives – they can rip your life apart and make you a shadow of yourself. You stand not only lose your health, you could lose joy and everything you once loved. EDs are extremely serious and can kill you very quickly, even if you’ve not lost a lot of weight.
The sooner you see your GP, the sooner your treatment can start. All the research shows that if you can get support quickly, you have a much better chance of getting better and of making a full recovery. I regret leaving it so long before seeking treatment as I may not have wasted all these years.
Nothing, absolutely nothing is worth having an ED for – there are so many other, more healthy ways to deal with difficult feelings and thoughts and your GP can point you in the right direction. Please seek help, now.
What is life for you like now?
Life is slowly getting easier now, but it is still tricky to be ‘normal’ in some situations. I still struggle to eat lunch with my work colleagues. I panic sometimes when I go to a restaurant and eat something different…but now I am equipped to deal with these feelings and know that it’s not about the food/weight but about the feelings of inadequacy that lie behind them. I have weekly CBT which has helped me to change the way I think about things and I have weekly health check-ups with my GP.
The further into recovery I’ve got, the more I’m able to enjoy life and I’m so grateful that people have loved me enough to stick by me though this process.”
What an inspirational story with some great advice! I hope you have found this interview helpful. If you’ve been affected by anything you have read, remember to seek help from your GP. Also, you can visit the ‘more help’ section for further help.
Top Tips for combatting Eating Disorders
1. Talk to someone you love and trust:
Eating disorders tend to be a way to cope and control difficult emotions. Try talking about how you are feeling instead of bottling it up, and get a treatment plan in place with your GP.
2. Build a solid support network:
Surround yourself with people who support you and want to see you healthy and happy. Avoid people that drain your energy, encourage disordered eating behaviours, or make you feel bad about yourself.
3. Stick with your eating disorder treatment plan:
Don’t neglect therapy or other aspects of your advised treatment, even if you are feeling better.
4. Avoid pro-ana and pro-mia websites:
Don’t visit websites that promote or glorify anorexia and bulimia. These sites are run by people who want excuses to continue down their destructive path. The “support” they offer is dangerous and will only get in the way of your recovery.
5. Fill your life with positive activities:
Make time for activities that bring you joy and fulfilment. Try something you’ve always wanted to do, develop a new skill, pick up a fun hobby, or volunteer in your community. The more rewarding your life, the less desire you’ll have to focus on food and weight.
6. Identify your triggers:
Are you more likely to revert to your old, destructive behaviours during the holidays, exam week, or swimsuit season? Know what your triggers are, and have a plan for dealing with them, such as going to therapy more often or asking for extra support from family and friends.