Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition that result in a person having an unhealthy relationship with food which negatively impacts both their mental and physical health. Eating disorders are more commonly diagnosed in female teenagers and young women but can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, cultural background and socioeconomic status. There are a variety of types of eating disorders and they don’t all affect people in the same way. Some people with eating disorders can look outwardly very healthy, others will show physical signs. It is important to seek help as soon as possible if you believe you may have an eating disorder.
Some common types of eating disorders are:
Anorexia nervosa, often referred to colloquially simply as anorexia, is characterised by the fear of gaining weight or being overweight. A person with anorexia nervosa will often restrict their eating and have a strict exercise schedule in order to maintain a low weight. They may also have a distorted image of themselves believing themselves to be fat. Typically to be diagnosed with this disorder your weight has to be below a ‘normal’ level for your age, height, sex, etc.
Bulimia nervosa is repeated binge eating followed by compensating behaviours in order to counteract the effect of overeating such as excessive exercise, fasting for several days or ‘purging’ that is using behaviours to rapidly remove food from your body through methods such as vomiting, taking laxatives or using dieting pills. People with bulimia nervosa will often try to binge eat in secret. It is typical for a person with bulimia nervosa to maintain what would be considered a ‘normal’ weight as compared to their peers.
People with binge eating disorder will overeat repeatedly. This overeating may consist of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, eating until uncomfortably full or continuing to eat even when not hungry. People with binge eating disorder may feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty of binge eating episodes. Unlike people with bulimia nervosa however, a person with binge eating disorder won’t engage in compensatory behaviours.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) categorise all other conditions where a person experiences disruptive or unhealthy eating habits and may have a distorted body image. People with an OSFED may experience some of the characterising features and symptoms of other eating disorders but may not perfectly fit into the description of any.
There are a range of symptoms for eating disorders and a single person will likely only experience some symptoms. Physical symptoms include sudden weight loss or gain, an inability to concentrate, fatigue and dizziness. Behavioural symptoms of an eating disorder include constant and excessive dieting, avoiding social situations that involve food, binge eating, purging, eating in secret, excessive exercise, obsessive rituals around food such as strict timings or only using certain utensils, and a change to wearing baggy clothing. A person with an eating disorder will also experience emotional signs which may include an obsession with their weight, meal time anxiety or anxiety around food in general, depression, and low self esteem.
The first step of recovery from an eating disorder is to talk to a GP to seek advice on what treatments will be suitable for you. Your eating disorder treatment may involve a wide range of professionals including dietitians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and continued assistance from a GP. The most important thing is that you seek help as soon as possible.
Here at Inner Psych our team of psychologists are able to assist you on your journey to recovery from all forms of eating disorder. We can work with you using tools such as cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy to help you develop new routines and ways of thinking resulting in a healthy relationship to food. Reach out today and talk to one of our expert team using the information available on our ‘Contact’ page.