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How to recognise and support someone with an eating disorder

02 March 2022
8 min read
Volume 33 · Issue 3


Sarah Jane Palmer explores how to support patients with eating disorders

Practice nursing is a profession at the forefront of primary care and throughout the pandemic it has been reported widely that eating disorders are on the increase or that those with existing eating disorders are relapsing at a higher rate (Zipfel et al, 2022). With the lack of support the pandemic produced through the restriction of face-to-face services and other community-led or charity-based services for the sake of meeting lockdown requirements and restrictions, a heavy price has been paid with devastating consequences for many. We have a chance to make a difference before any further deterioration can happen – if a proactive approach is taken with quick attention to the hidden red flags the patient exhibits, help can be given. Bulimia, anorexia and binge eating are difficult to discuss for the patient, so the key is in how the practitioner approaches the topic when they notice either signs or symptoms that may be part of what the patient has come in with or aspects of their condition that the patient is trying to keep hidden: they may not be ready to face the damage being done to their body or they may have comorbid mental health issues that make it more difficult for them to recognise their problem. Body dysmorphia is a common issue throughout the eating disorder spectrum. Ultimately with the right approach, the patient may feel ready at the point of seeing you to be referred to the eating disorder team, or the patient may require several appointments – or counselling at first – to help them get to a position where they are ready to take on the complex task of managing their eating disorder.

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