Eating Disorders and Difficulties

Eating Disorders and Difficulties

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are considered serious mental health conditions which are defined by a person having “an abnormal and persistent belief towards food that causes them to negatively alter their eating habits and behaviour”.

The most recognised eating disorder names you may have heard of are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

There are also a number of other eating disorders that are categorised within diagnostic frameworks as ‘Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED)’.

What are the key symptoms and different types of eating disorders?

The symptoms of eating disorders differ depending on the specific type of eating disorder an individual suffers from. If you feel you are suffering from an eating disorder, it’s likely you’ve noticed your eating behaviours and habits affecting your relationships, work and home life. You may also find these eating behaviours negatively impact your mental and physical health.

Some of the most common symptoms and features of an eating disorder might include:

  • Persistent weighing of yourself
  • A negative view of your own body
  • Restrictions on food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Purging
  • The fear and worry of being or becoming ‘fat’
  • Excessive periods of eating
  • Shame and secrecy

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia sufferers typically attempt to reduce their weight and shape through excessive restriction of food, over-exercise and other unhealthy methods that might help them lose weight. Anorexia frequently causes an intense obsession with weight, body shape, and the perception other people may hold about how you look.

The most common symptoms and signs of anorexia include:

  • Having an abnormally low body weight
  • An unhealthy obsession with being slim
  • An acute fear of gaining weight
    A disfigured perception of weight or body shape (body dysmorphia)
  • Excessive restriction of dietary and calorie intake, and excessive exercising, to maintain your weight as low as possible or cause weight loss
  • Physical issues, such as feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and experiencing hair loss or your skin becoming dry
  • Frequently weighing and mirror-checking (or for some, avoiding seeing their reflection at all)
  • People with anorexia can also suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-harm
  • Those with this condition may also hold unrelenting standards for themselves and be known as perfectionists. They may be high achievers and strive for unrealistic results in most or all of what they do. This is often because of an extremely low self-esteem and confidence in themselves.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia is an eating disorder usually characterised by difficulties with controlling eating urges and the quantity of food consumed. These specific behaviours result in bulimia suffers intentionally being sick (purging), consuming laxatives to control and maintain their weight, or take part in intensive exercise. For some, their difficulties with controlling their eating urges may result in the consumption of significant amounts of food at certain intervals, known as ‘a binge’ which they then over-compensate for through purging or laxative use. For others, compensation strategies such as purging, may be in response to ‘normal’ eating behaviours but in an attempt to control and reduce their weight.

Some of the more common symptoms and characteristics of bulimia include:

  • Binge eating: When you eat large amounts of food, even if you are not hungry (generally up to three or four times the typical quantity of food).
  • Purging: Following binge eating, an individual may attempt to remove the calories they have eaten through damaging procedures. For example, deliberately making themselves sick, excessive exercise or laxative misuse
  • Starving oneself intermittently
  • An obsession with food or calories
  • Repeatedly weighing yourself
  • Hatred towards your body
  • Shame and guilt
  • People with bulimia can also suffer from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks

The binge-purge cycles linked with bulimia can be triggered through anxiety, stress, hunger or sometimes for no clear reason. In comparison to other eating disorders, bulimia sufferers may not experience a significant alteration in their weight, however they may go to great lengths to conceal their behaviours.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED), also referred to as ‘compulsive eating disorder’ is characterised by people who may compulsively and uncontrollably eat a large quantity of food in a short timeframe until uncomfortably full; regardless of whether they are hungry or not. Someone struggling with these issues may also experience a frequent feeling of being compelled to consistently overeat, which is often linked with the feeling of being out of control during these binging episodes. Binge eating is not linked with purging, excessive exercising or laxative misuse; thus, BED can result in obesity.

The main symptoms of binge eating disorder can be:

  • Eating large quantities of food when not hungry
  • Eating beyond feeling full (perhaps not recognising the sensations of fullness)
  • Eating extremely quickly
  • Eating in secrecy to conceal the quantity that is being consumed
  • Experiencing extreme feelings of guilt after a binge, which can result in further eating to cope with these feelings
  • Feeling out of control

It is important to note that BED sufferers may often binge eat to cope with additional mental health issues they experience, such as anxiety and stress.

What are the effective treatments and therapy interventions for eating disorders?

 The great news is that eating disorders are treatable. There are effective therapy interventions utilised to treat and manage eating disorders such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), radically open dialectical behaviour therapy (RO-DBT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). One of the most evidence-based and recommended therapies for supporting recovery within eating disorders is family therapy.
If you, a family member or a friend would like to access therapy for an eating disorder, or difficulties with eating, contact Serendipity Psychology today to arrange an initial consultation or to speak with a member of our team for further information.

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