It’s an illness which causes untold misery for thousands of sufferers across Derbyshire.
But help is at hand for people living with an eating disorder thanks to Chesterfield-based support group First Steps.
The charity aims to aid sufferers whose everyday lives are ruined by devastating conditions including anorexia and bulimia.
Marc Thrasivoulou, a support worker at the group, revealed that 50,000 people in Derbyshire have an eating disorder.
He said: “We’re talking about a serious and complex mental illness which can have an awful effect on sufferers – they can feel depressed or want to self-harm – and it can have a dreadful impact on their loved ones.
“However, we’re here to help and we’ve had a lot of success stories – there’s no better feeling than seeing someone with an eating disorder turn around their lives.
“The majority of staff and volunteers have personal experience of an eating disorder either as a sufferer or as a parent, carer or friend and can understand what our service users are going through,” he added.
First Steps, which operates from the community room at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters in Braidwood Way, was set up last September.
The charity helps scores of people of all ages at its support groups and offers telephone and online advice.
In response to high demand, the group – which is Derbyshire’s only eating disorder charity – has decided to introduce twice-monthly sessions from this September.
Marc said: “We offer a friendly and non-judgmental atmosphere for anyone who is having difficulties with food-related issues – you don’t have to be diagnosed with a particular eating disorder.
“If you’ve got an eating disorder, please don’t suffer in silence – we can help you.”
For more information about the group and its support sessions, log on to www.firststepsderby.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01332 367571.
Anorexic teenager now on the road to recovery
Rebecca Kirkland knows all too well about the devastating effects of eating disorders.
The 19-year-old, of Hasland, was diagnosed with anorexia and a number of other food-related problems about six years ago.
But with the help of First Steps, the brave teenager is well on the road to recovery.
Keen to raise awareness about the impacts of eating disorders, Rebecca told the Derbyshire Times: “They can ruin your life.
“You find yourself always looking in the mirror, you find yourself constantly thinking about food and what you can do to avoid it and you find yourself not going out with friends because you’re so worried about how you look and how other people are going to perceive you.
“They can have an impact on your loved ones as well – eating disorders don’t just affect an individual, they can potentially ruin the lives of the people who are closest to you.”
She added: “It’s so important to have groups like First Steps where people with eating disorders can receive support in a friendly and non-judgemental atmosphere.
“What’s more, you’re getting help from staff who’ve been through what you’re going through – I’d like to thank them for everything they’ve done for me.”
How eating disorders can affect you or your friends
Eating disorders include a range of conditions which can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. The most common eating disorders are:
anorexia nervosa – when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible by starving themselves or exercising excessively
bulimia – when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives
binge eating – when someone feels compelled to overeat
Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin. However, the causes are usually more complex. There may be some biological or influencing factors such as depression.
It can often be very difficult to realise that a loved one or a friend has developed an eating disorder.
Warning signs to look out for include:
Complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight;
Repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror.
If it is not treated, an eating disorder can have a negative impact on someone’s job or schoolwork and can disrupt relationships with family members and friends. At worst, an eating disorder can be fatal.
Log on to www.nhs.uk for more information about eating disorders.