149 weeks. The length of your average degree course. The time it would take to make two return trips to Mars, or the duration of over four pregnancies.
In short, a really, really long time.
It's also the average length of time which passes, typically, before someone suffering with an eating disorder seeks help. This National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, running from 26th February to the 4th March, UK Eating Disorder Charity will be asking the question, 'Why Wait?'
A recent YouGov Survey of over 2000 adults found that more than one in three are unable to name any signs or symptoms of an eating disorder. Affecting between 600,000 and 725,000 adults and teenagers in the UK alone, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. That's why it's absolutely vital to spot the symptoms and seek treatment ASAP, whether you're worried about a loved one or yourself.
So how can we reduce the wait? Whilst every eating disorder is different, and not every sufferer will display all of the signs, there are some pointers which should immediately raise a red flag.
Here, we talk you through Beat's top six warning signals.
It may seem an obvious symptom, but an unhealthy obsession with food can extend beyond calorie counting and elimination of food groups deemed 'fattening'. One form of food obsession that's growing in the UK is a fixation with 'clean' or 'healthy' eating, which influencers Ella Mills and Ruby Tandoh have openly spoken out against.
Mood Swings And Changing Behaviour
Low self-esteem is just one of the psychological symptoms of an eating disorder, which can quickly spiral into a vicious loop of seclusion, secrecy and anxiety. Those suffering with an E.D may develop other mental or physical health issues alongside the illness; it's possible, too, that pre-existing issues may have played a role in the eating disorder developing.
Distorted Body Image
A fixation with shape, weight, or the size of certain body parts is a common symptom, as is checking one's own reflection or silhouette, or recording body measurements.
There are many types of eating disorder. Whilst it's evident that in the case of anorexia, a lack of food equals a lack of brain fuel, the pervading obsession with food and body size devours a sizeable chunk of thinking space for sufferers of anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder and OSFEDs. This can lead to a lack of concentration or being increasingly distracted.
Exercise is often cited as a 'safety behaviour' associated with eating disorders - a compulsion or habit that calms or soothes the sufferer. When unable to exercise, some people with E.Ds will become anxious, irrational and agitated.
Disappearance After Meals
Bathroom trips after meals are a common indicator of purging, or laxative misuse after eating or binge eating. As bulimia doesn't necessarily cause weight loss, it can often go unnoticed for a considerable length of time, but continual purges can lead to dangerous nutrient deficiencies and strain on the body.
Mental illness is never easy to tackle head-on, especially mental illnesses intertwined, as eating disorders are, with secrecy, shame and solitude. Admitting that help is needed, and reaching out, is the first step on a journey to recovery that could take several years.
If you're worried about yourself or someone you know, more information, support and help can be found at