About Eating Disorders

woman eating an apple

There are many people who have a dysfunctional relationship with food and whilst it is convenient to put a label on them, not everyone will fall strictly within the parameters listed for a particular disorder. Having said that, it is apparent that certain psychological and emotional problems are associated with particular eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Signs & Characteristics:

  • An extreme desire to be thin, to an unhealthy level
  • An extreme fear of weight gain or becoming fat
  • A belief that they are overweight, even when actually they are underweight
  • A deliberate maintenance of a very low body weight
  • Menstrual cycles often cease
  • Obsessive exercising
  • Obsessive weighing
  • Dry yellow skin and brittle nails/hair
  • Lanugo (fine body hair) on the face and body
  • Eating alone
  • Obsessive interest in food preparation but not wanting to eat

Although anorexia nervosa is usually associated with teenage girls, boys are also at risk as are older adults. There are usually a number of factors involved in the development of any eating disorder but behind the development of anorexia nervosa, is often a history of sexual abuse or other severe traumas, along with a feeling of lack of control over one’s life. Obsessive control of diet can relieve some of the stress created by this. An anorexic person may literally, hope to disappear and thus avoid attracting unwanted attention.

Bulimia Nervosa

Signs & Characteristics:

  • Regular eating binges – the consumption of large quantities of food in a short period of time
  • Feeling out of control about the food intake
  • This is followed by feelings of guilt and fear about becoming fat
  • A need to get rid of the binged food, through the use of laxatives, vomiting or diuretics
  • Not eating for several days after a binge
  • Usually the bulimic person is not underweight
  • Being secretive about the types/quantities of food eaten
  • Visiting the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Decaying teeth and sore throat
  • Being tired all the time Being very self critical
  • Being moody and depressed

It is not unusual for someone to change from being anorexic to bulimic and even to alternate between the two states. However, binging is generally associated with someone who needs to find a way to cope with depression, sadness and anger

Comfort Eating

Signs & Characteristics:

  • Regularly using foods to escape feelings that are overwhelming
  • Eating when not hungry but in response to emotions
  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • Feeling better for a short time after eating, then uncomfortable thoughts reoccur

Many people comfort eat occasionally but if it is a regular feature of their life, then it may be a way of avoiding facing emotional problems. Comfort eating, if ignored, can lead to more serious eating disorders.

Over Eating

Signs & Characteristics:

  • The person may be considerably overweight / obese
  • Eating becomes obsessive
  • Various health issues arise – diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease etc
  • The person literally lives to eat
  • Food is used to avoid thinking about emotional problems
  • Fad diets are used
  • They may loose weight dramatically but put it all back on again
  • No stability in their weight
  • Constant or regular binge eating

As with anorexia nervosa, a clinically overweight person may have a history of sexual abuse or other severe trauma. Unlike anorexia, the unspoken aim is to make themselves as unattractive / unavailable as possible to avoid sexual or other attention. There may also be depression and unresolved personal issues behind the obsessive eating. Unlike other eating disorders, men appear to be equally likely to overeat.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it is important to seek help to deal with the psychological and emotional issues that it conceals. Psychotherapy is an essential tool to uncover these issues and create new and healthier ways of coping with stress, which dieting alone cannot do.

    <p>Other useful organisations are listed below.</p><ul><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a><br />(Eating Disorders)</li><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a><br />(Centre for Eating &amp; Dieting Disorders)</li></ul>        
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