Help with Disordered Eating

Most of us are unaware of the very personal relationship we each have with food but most of us will turn to food (or away from it) at times of emotional distress.

How we are feeling often has an impact on the type and amount of food we eat. In times of distress, some people may turn to high fat or highly sugared foods while others may go for very healthy foods as a way to make them feel better. Problems with food can begin when a person uses food as a primary method of coping with difficult circumstances. An unhealthy relationship with food could mean that a person is suffering from very disorders eating.

Disordered eating is generally characterised by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of a person’s physical, psychological and emotional health. Disordered eating is often described as an outward expression of internal emotional pain and confusion.

The causes of disordered eating are complex and rarely attributed to just one factor. They are more likely to be the result of a combination of factors. Things like bereavement, being bullied, being abused, experiencing a traumatic event, self-esteem problems, changes in the family and some illnesses can all encourage the onset of an eating disorder. Social media and traditional media like television, film, advertisements and magazines also play a role through idealising unrealistic body images.

Anyone can develop disordered eating habits regardless of age, sex, culture or race, although the people most likely to be affected tend to be young women, particularly between the ages of 15-25. Eating disorders are a serious mental condition affecting 1.6 million people in the UK.

The number of men developing disordered eating is on the rise. And though disordered eating usually affect the young, it’s not uncommon for them to appear in middle age.

Disordered eating and eating disorders

There are many ways people develop unhealthy relationships with food. Though not everyone with disordered eating has an eating disorder, in some cases a person with disordered eating can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Three prevalent types of eating disorders are:

Or simply ‘anorexia’, is an eating disorder characterised by extremely low body weight, distorted body image and an obsessive fear of gaining weight. It is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterised by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. People with anorexia nervosa may go to extreme lengths to limit food or calorie intake in an effort to attain a very specific, and unhealthy, body image. They may also exercise excessively.

Or ‘bulimia’, is characterised by secretive cycles of binge eating followed by behaviour that compensates for the over-eating. In other words, someone with bulimia nervosa will eat large amounts of food in a short period of time and then attempt to get rid of the food or calories through vomiting, using enemas or laxatives or through excessive exercise. Like anorexia, bulimia nervosa is a serious illness and can be life-threatening.

Sometimes called Compulsive Eating, is characterised by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating to the point of being uncomfortably full. While there is no purging (getting the food out of the body, as in bulimia) there may be sporadic fasts and diets as an attempt to compensate for over-eating.

In all three types of eating disorders the cycle of behaviour can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, regret and depression, as well as secretive behaviour. And eating disorders often lead to secondary health problems like dental problems, reproductive system problems and digestive system damage.

Counselling for disordered eating can help

If you are seeking information on problems with food or eating disorders, you may be concerned about your own health or the health of someone you know. The first step towards understanding the complex issues surrounding eating disorders is acknowledging that a problem exists. Eating disorders are often complicated and successful treatment requires a great deal of determination and commitment.

Counselling for eating disorders looks at the underlying causes of the eating disorder, considers what triggers the eating disorder behaviour and looks at new, healthier ways to cope with the difficult emotional experiences that drive the unhealthy eating.

With the right help and support, successful treatment of eating disorders is possible. Speaking to someone about this problem can sometimes be the beginning of recovery.

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