As the number of both men and women admitted to hospital for an eating disorder rose by 70pc in the last six years Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity which is based in Norwich, tells how early treatment is vital.

At least 725,000 people in the UK of all ages, genders, and backgrounds have an eating disorder.

These serious mental illnesses can have a devastating impact, but recovery is possible, especially if the person is treated early.

This isn't always easily done – people with eating disorders are often dismissed as vain, attention-seeking, or lacking willpower.

No one chooses an eating disorder – their treatment of food is often a way to cope with difficult thoughts or feelings, or to feel in control.

One person told Beat: 'I used to [...] eat as much as I could, as quickly as possible, to try to make myself feel happier and fill the hole I felt inside.'

The thoughts that fuel the illness differ from person to person, and treatment should address this as well as any physical issues.

Eating disorders are very complex, and can be difficult to understand even for those suffering from them.

In the words of one person in recovery: 'I knew logically that I couldn't survive on what I was eating but my eating disorder kept telling me [...] to eat less and less.'

Others may not realise there's something wrong. Often, it's someone else who notices they're ill, so widespread awareness of early signs and willingness to give support is vital.

A problem sufferers often face is that people expect to see severe weight loss. Actually, someone's weight might not change, or may increase – and the aim should always be to get treatment before the illness affects their physical health.

The first signs instead relate to thoughts and behaviour – you might notice things like increased focus on food, social withdrawal and secrecy, difficulty focusing, tiredness, mood swings, and anxiety about eating around others. Someone may start exercising more, have beliefs about their size that don't match what others see, or disappear to the bathroom after meal times.

It's important to seek help as quickly as possible to have the best chance of recovery. If you're worried about yourself or someone you know, make an appointment with the GP. If you'd like support, Beat's Helpline is open every day from 3pm-10pm on 0808 801 0677 or at

For resources and more information about eating disorders, go to

• For more from the EDP's special mental health takeover edition, click here.