Eating Disorders – Fact, Fiction and the need for change

Jacinta Hastings CEO of our member organisation Bodywhys writes on Eating Disorders – Fact, Fiction and the need for change to mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week (20th to the 26th of February).

Bodywhys is the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland

Nobody just wakes up one day with an eating disorder.  These are conditions that develop over time, sometimes over years and often at a point when life changes bring fear and insecurity.

Both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa often start with a period of food restriction of some kind, which gradually becomes stricter and stricter.  Debating the options of what to eat becomes a constant daily struggle, an internal battle, a desperate self-involved fight where even sleep offers little escape.  The person affected may become increasingly secretive around food and eating while denying or not acknowledging that there is a problem.  Food increasingly comes to dominate thoughts, feelings and actions.  All this may serve to reinforce a person’s negative behaviour around food.  The behaviours are often what are seen and the eating disorder dismissed as attention seeking, a lifestyle choice or a faddy diet.  Once trapped within the eating disorder, people often feel they need to maintain it in order to survive. They don’t know who they are or how they could cope without it.

Eating disorders are complex, serious illnesses that affect the physical and mental health of those affected.  The Department of Health estimates that 200,000 people in Ireland are affected by eating disorders with 400 new cases each year.  Morbidity and mortality is significant in eating disorders.  Relapse is common while some 30% or more become chronic.  Depression is found in about one-third of sufferers.  Mortality can reach 20%, one of the highest death rates among psychiatric disorders, mainly from suicide, infection, gastro-intestinal complications and severe emaciation.  Medical complications are common and include acute electrolyte disturbances, osteoporosis and infertility.  Eating disorders have a high rate of psychiatric and general medical co-morbidity that often conceals, clinically and statistically, the underlying condition.

Behind these statistics are real people who need help urgently.

Currently in Ireland, there are only three designated specialist beds for the treatment of eating disorders in the public service.  These are in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin.  There are in-patient beds in the private sector in St. Patrick’s Hospital, St. John of God Hospital and Lois Bridges – all in Dublin.  ‘A Vision for Change’ makes eight recommendations in relation to Eating Disorders.  The recommendations include health promotion activities, supporting voluntary agencies, increased training for health professionals, use of in-patient Child & Adolescent Mental Health facilities where required and development of a National Centre for Eating Disorders in the National Children’s Hospital to manage complex cases.  In addition four specialist adult multidisciplinary teams utilising six mental health beds per region are to be developed to provide community based consultation, advice and support to all agencies in their area.

People with eating disorders can and do recover but only when they have access to the services they need, when and where they need them.


Jacinta Hastings

Chief Executive Officer

Bodywhys – The Eating Disorders Association

Web: Admin Tel: 01 2834963

Helpline: 1890 200 444  Email Support:




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