It doesn’t matter what size or shape you are – anyone can have an eating disorder and every person’s experience of an eating problem is unique.
Eating disorders are mental health problems that involve:
always thinking about eating, or not eating
feeling out of control around food
using food to meet needs other than hunger
having an obsession about food, weight and body shape.
There are four types of eating disorders that we most often hear about:
Anorexia: Where a person believes they are fat, even when they are not and may have lost a lot of weight.
Bulimia: Where a person eats very large amounts of food because they are starving. Then they worry about gaining weight so they make themselves vomit, takes laxatives or exercises to extremes.
Binge eating disorder: Where a person eats an excessive amount of food within a short period of time (two hours) and feels a loss of control while eating.
Other eating disorders: Where a person has signs of either bulimia or anorexia but not enough signs to definitely state they have these conditions. This category is often called Eating Disorder not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) by doctors, and usually occurs at an early age. It is very common and doctors treat is as seriously as the other categories of eating disorder.
Many people feel ashamed and, because they can sense other people's prejudice, often keep their condition hidden.
What causes eating disorders?
There is no clear cause of an eating disorder. This makes it more upsetting for the person, family and friends, as they all try to think about what could have started it and what to do about it, but that is not possible.
Nevertheless, the following types of people do tend to have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder:
those whose career or sport requires them to be thin – dancers, gymnasts, models, jockeys or body builders
those who are overweight
those with a number of different problems including childhood sexual abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol problems and unstable relationships
people with diabetes
those with problems of self-esteem and identity
young people living within families that make them feel that they are only worthwhile when they are very good at study or sport, very well behaved, or thin and attractive and who feel worthless if they do not match up to the family expectations.
people who are depressed; feeling sad or irritable much of the time, avoiding doing things with friends.
people with high personal expectations – always striving to be perfect in everything.
Cultural factors should not be ignored when we think about what can cause eating disorders in vulnerable people. We are constantly bombarded with the message that women need to be thin to be considered beautiful, and men need to muscular and lean. Since a thin shape is normal and healthy for only a very few women, others must either struggle with feelings of not being good, perfect or self-controlled enough or begin to diet. Men tend to over-exercise.
For people at risk of an eating disorder a number of things could set them off, such as:
Signs to look for (symptoms)
There are many symptoms of an eating disorder. These may not relate to everybody, and sometimes it can be difficult to notice any signs at all. Signs of an eating disorder could include:
extreme concern about being too fat and thinking about food and dieting all the time
increasing isolation from others
secret eating and purging (vomiting or taking laxatives)
food disappearing from the house, especially high calorie foods
spending long periods in the toilet especially immediately after meals, sometimes with the tap running for long periods
strenuous exercise routine, even exercising when injured or unwell
severe weight changes
sudden mood changes, irritability, depression, sadness, anger, difficulty in expressing feelings
poor concentration and being unusually tired
constant pursuit of thinness.
Some of these signs can relate to different problems and not to eating disorders, but if there are several of these signs together, it could mean an eating problem.
How the doctor determines if you have an eating disorder (diagnosis)
There is no straightforward test for an eating disorder and no universally agreed treatment path or medication that provides a cure. The first step is talking with your doctor and asking for help.
Eating disorders are complex. A person with an eating disorder will very often also suffer from depression, anxiety and a lack of self worth.
While your doctor may not be an expert in treating eating disorders, they will be able to assess any physical problems resulting from your eating disorder. They can also help you to contact specialist eating disorder services.
Uncovering the underlying psychological reasons that are causing an eating disorder is essential for building a path to recovery. The most successful treatment for eating disorders in the longer term is by talking to a specialist who can help with your emotional needs and can help you take control of your eating. Contact me www.changeyourmind.nz or email@example.com Treatment over Skype/zoom or in person.