Individuals are considered to have an eating disorder if they have an unhealthy attitude towards food. If this attitude causes them to change their behaviour and eating habits, then it can cause harmful consequences both physically and mentally.
Eating disorders are characterised by a change in eating habits and a severe distress regarding body shape or weight. A change in eating habits could include severely restricting food intake, binge eating, and purging.
Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders do not only affect teenage girls, although it is true that the majority of eating disorder patients are female. An eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder and one that can lead to fatal consequences if left untreated.
Types of Eating Disorder
Although eating disorders can take many forms, there are three main types – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
- Anorexia Nervosa – Patients with anorexia nervosa will have a fear of gaining weight and will strive to keep their weight as low as possible. They will have an unrealistic view of their body image and will often be of the opinion that they are never thin enough. Even if they are aware that they are thin, they will always want to be thinner. Anorexics will severely limit the food they consume and may completely restrict certain foods. They may also exercise excessively in a bid to get their weight lower. This is a very serious condition that can lead to a host of physical health conditions including organ failure, infertility, bone loss, brain damage, and death.
- Bulimia Nervosa – Bulimia nervosa sufferers have periods in which they binge-eat large amounts of food in one sitting. They will then feel guilty or ashamed of their actions and will try to purge themselves by making themselves sick or taking laxatives. Those who suffer from bulimia tend to be unhappy with their body image and also fear putting weight on. They are inclined to suffer from low self-esteem and will carry out their binge eating and purging in secret. Because bulimia sufferers typically stay the same weight, it is very difficult for loved ones to spot this mental health disorder. Bulimia is not without its long-term effects, however. This illness can result in severe dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, and heart difficulties.
- Binge Eating Disorder – Those who suffer from binge eating disorder regularly lose control over the amount of food they consume. They will continue to eat, despite not being hungry, but they do not purge themselves and, therefore, are at risk of becoming obese and developing related conditions such as heart disease and type II diabetes. Individuals with binge eating disorder have no control over the amount of food they eat and may experience feelings of guilt, shame and disgust after a period of bingeing.
Causes of Eating Disorders
Although many believe that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are caused by social pressure to look a certain way, the causes are often much more complicated than that. There are a number of things that can trigger an eating disorder, and some people are more susceptible than others. Those with an increased risk of developing an eating disorder may have:
- A family history of eating disorder, substance abuse, or depression
- Been criticised for their weight, body shape, or eating habits
- A desire to be thin because of a particular activity such as modelling, athletics, or dancing
- An obsessive personality, low self-esteem, or an anxiety disorder
- Troubled relationships with friends or family members
- Experienced a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, or suffered emotional or physical abuse
- Difficulty dealing with stressful situations at home, at school, or at work
Signs to Look Out For
Most people with an eating disorder will be fully aware of their unhealthy eating habits. Nevertheless, they will rarely seek help themselves. It is typically down to the loved ones of sufferers to seek help and advice, so it is important to be on the lookout for the following signs if you are concerned.
- An obsession with being thin and never being thin enough
- A fear of gaining weight
- A distorted body image
- Severely restricted eating
- Excessive exercising
- Brittle nails and hair
- Fine hair on the body
- Feeling cold all the time
- Extreme lethargy
- Swollen glands in the jaw or neck area
- Constant sore or inflamed throat
- Stomach problems from laxative use
- Gastrointestinal problems and acid reflux
- Sensitive teeth from recurrent vomiting
Those with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia may find excuses for not eating and might look for reasons to miss meals with others. They may constantly complain of being overweight despite being obviously underweight or having a normal body weight.
Those with eating disorders may become defensive with anyone who suggests they have a problem, so it can be difficult to tackle this situation.
Treating Eating Disorders
Treating an eating disorder can be trickier than treating conditions such as drug or alcohol addiction because it is impossible to abstain from eating. Here at Liberty House Clinic, our team of counsellors and therapists know that it is necessary to change a patient’s attitude to food and their self-image.
It is vital to identify the cause of the problem and to deal with this so that the patient can begin to develop healthy eating habits. We know that left untreated, eating disorders can lead to a host of mental and physical problems. Our professional staff are trained in helping patients with a variety of eating disorders and have the knowledge and experience to help all patients overcome their illness.
If you need help for an eating disorder or if you are concerned about a loved one, get in touch with Liberty House Clinic today.