Eating Disorders

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can best be described as a psychological and emotional condition that affects the eating patterns of those affected.  The underlying thought process that has given rise to the eating disorder varies depending on the type.  An intense fear of being overweight, low-self-esteem and confidence, a fear of being judged negatively by others, a persistent, obsessional and irrational belief about one’s body shape/size and an incontrollable desire for food are some of the thought processes and belief systems that contribute to the development of eating disorders.

What are the types of eating disorders?

There are three main types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is a form of eating disorder in which those affected do what they possible can to avoid putting on weight.  Even though they are underweight, they see themselves as overweight and constantly fear that they will become overweight.  As a result of these fears and beliefs they over exercise, restrict the amount of food they eat and may even use laxatives and diuretics to ensure they do not put on weight. Main symptoms are:

  • Distorted body image and a sense of self that is based significantly on body weight and shape
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • An obsession with being thin despite being of normal weight and size
  • Restricted eating and counting calories
  • Physical symptoms such as tiredness, infertility, heart problems, low blood pressure, constipation, anaemia and brittle bones.

What is Bulimia?

People with bulimia experience recurrent and frequent episodes of overeating which they find difficult to control.  These binge eating episodes are usually followed by behaviours such as making themselves vomit, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting and exercise in an attempt to compensate for overeating.  There is sense of guilt and shame after binge eating and unlike anorexia, those who suffer with bulimia are usually of normal weight.  People with bulimia could develop physical symptoms related to frequent vomiting and laxative/diuretic use such as acid reflux, sore throat, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and heart problems

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder occurs when people lose control over their eating to the point of eating excessively and frequently.  Unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not engage in behaviours that serve to keep their weight down.  As a result, they tend to be overweight and obese.

Symptoms include:

  • Eating significantly large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eating even when you are not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • A feeling of shame and guilt about eating habits

What are the causes of eating disorders?

There are many causes of eating disorders.  There may be a genetic element as those with a family history of eating disorders are at an increased risk of developing the disorder.  It is usually associated with other conditions like depression, anxiety and certain personality disorders.  Certain personality types are also at an increased risk of developing the disorder and an excessive and obsessional desire from a young age to meet the ideals and demands of modern society when it comes to body image is a significant factor.

Are there any treatments available for eating disorders?

Treatment for eating disorders are aimed at addressing the underlying thoughts and beliefs that have given rise to the subsequent behaviours.  Hence, psychotherapy and behavioural modification are essential in order to relieve the symptoms.  Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers may be used depending on the nature and severity of the condition.  Some patients may require admission to hospital for medical care due to the effects of malnutrition and its complications.

Please click here to view therapists that specialise in therapy for disordered eating