WHAT IS AN EATING DISORDER?
Disordered eating is when your relationship with food is beginning to affect your everyday life but it is not yet severe enough to warrant a formal diagnosis of an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders or disordered eating use or abuse food as a way of managing emotions such as loneliness, sadness, stress, anxiety and fluctuations in mood.
Eating disorders appear in a number of ways; if you find yourself becoming more and more preoccupied with restricting, controlling food intake and/or regularly binge eating or eating more than your body requires, you may have an eating disorder. You may notice some of the following behaviours: avoiding eating in company, throwing food away, hiding food, consuming large amounts of food, becoming anxious when there is either too much or too little food to eat, doing excessive amounts of exercise, or making yourself sick after eating.
- An Eating Disorder is not motivated by attention seeking – no one chooses to have one.
- An Eating Disorder can cause serious physical damage
- An Eating Disorder will severely affect your day-to-day life
- An Eating Disorder left untreated will get progressively get worse
- An Eating Disorder can be successfully treated
For the anorexia sufferer, feelings of hunger and deprivation help to fill an emotional void. Different foods become “feared” or “trusted” to different degrees, and a fixation with nutrition and calorie values rules what to eat and what to avoid. Controlling the intake of food becomes paramount, and this impulse to control reflects a deep emotional need on the part of the sufferer to control all feelings
Have you experienced any of the following in relation to your food?
- Restricting certain foods or drastically reducing how much you eat.
- Pretending to eat or lying about eating.
- Excessive trips to the bathroom or the regular use of laxatives.
- Frequent weigh-ins and over-attention to tiny fluctuations in weight.
- A compulsion to check in the mirror for body flaws and complaints about being fat.
- Excessive and/or compulsive exercising.
- Apathy, moodiness, low energy and withdrawal from social life.
Feeling cold all the time.
- Dry, lifeless hair, brittle nails or poor skin tone.
- In women, missing three consecutive menstrual periods.
Those who suffer from bulimia often eat large quantities of food in a relatively short period of time, then will take laxatives or make themselves throw up to prevent gaining weight. Excessive eating triggers feelings that are powerful, overwhelming and shameful. The cycle of bingeing and purging helps to control these feelings, and also avoids the anger and guilt that are buried at the heart of the eating disorder.
- Poor body image.
- Low moods and feelings of depression
- Eating unusually large amounts of food with no apparent change in weight.
- Craving binge foods (especially sugar and white flour products)
- Purging (throwing up)
- Losing weight through laxatives or over-exercising.
- An excessive, rigid exercise regimen.
- Tooth and mouth problems.
- Irregular or non-existent menstrual periods.
Compulsive over-eaters find tremendous comfort in food. It enables them to feel soothed and safe in a way they may never have truly experienced in their relationships with family or friends. Becoming overweight from eating large quantities of food can also be a way of coping with feelings of not being “good enough”, or of not feeling wanted by another, and helps to avoid the risk of rejection.
Have you experienced any of the following in your relationship with food?
- Eating alone or in secret.
- Hiding food from friends, family and others.
- Feelings of guilt and shame about bingeing.
- Eating until uncomfortably full or even when not really hungry.
- Planning your day around times for secret bingeing.
- Eating when stressed or faced with emotional challenges.
- Panicking if there are no binge foods in the house.
- Measuring one package of food against another for larger fillings and size.
OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder)
Not all people with an eating disorder exhibit symptoms which exactly fit the expected symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or over-eating. These people may be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).
People diagnosed with this may experience very different symptoms, including:
- Atypical anorexia – where someone has all the symptoms a doctor looks for to diagnose anorexia, except their weight remains within a “normal” range.
- Bulimia nervosa (of low frequency and/or limited duration) – where someone has all of the symptoms of bulimia, except the binge/purge cycles don’t happen as often or over as long a period of time as doctors would expect.
- Binge eating disorder (of low frequency and/or limited duration) – where someone has all of the symptoms of binge eating disorder, except the binges don’t happen as often or over as long a period of time as doctors would expect.
- Purging disorder – where someone purges, for example by being sick or using laxatives, to affect their weight or shape, but this isn’t as part of binge/purge cycles.
- Night eating syndrome – where someone repeatedly eats at night, either after waking up from sleep, or by eating a lot of food after their evening meal.
Like any other eating disorder, OSFED is a very serious mental illness that is not only about the way the person treats food but about underlying thoughts and feelings. The eating disorder may be a way of coping with these thoughts, or a way of feeling in control.
Signs of OSFED to look out for might include:
- Overly focused on and/or secretive behaviour around food
- Self-consciousness when eating in front of others
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Poor body image
- Irritability and mood swings
- Social withdrawal
- Feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
Eating disorders can have painful and disruptive consequences on both the sufferer and the lives of their loved ones. Contact us for discreet, non-judgemental help from counsellors and psychotherapists experienced in working with issues ranging from restricting food to purging and over-eating.