Caroline Nokes is Member of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North. Follow Caroline on Twitter.
All too often the stereotypes associated with eating disorders (in all their various guises) colour the understanding of us all, and the assumption that sufferers are teenage girls who just need to “get a grip” of their eating has been repeated to me many times over the course of the last few weeks.
The reality could not be further from the truth, eating disorders do not just affect teenage girls, young men are the fastest growing group of sufferers. They can strike at any age, and I have met sufferers of my age, and indeed those in their 50s and 60s who are still living with and managing their conditions. And you cannot be “cured” of any of the several eating disorders just by getting a grip of your eating. These are serious mental conditions, which can have devastating physical impacts upon the sufferer, and they are the most lethal of any mental illness.
In the UK there are 1.6 million people affected by eating disorders, and these range from the ones most will have heard of, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, to the far more obscure, such as Selective Eating Disorder, Food Neophobia and obsessive over-exercising. Today’s debate in Westminster Hall is timed to coincide with Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which runs from the 17th – 24th February, and seeks to highlight the complexities of these conditions, and improve the understanding of parliamentarians.
I vividly recall the way various debates on mental illness have been welcomed in the House recently, and I hope this debate can address some of the misconceptions there are regarding this very serious and all too frequently tragic form of mental illness.