Let’s make it clear that eating disorders are significant mental health conditions and NOT a lifestyle choice. They incorporate severe issues with your perception of food and eating habits. Thus, you use the control of food to manage your feelings and situations. It can involve you eating much less or much more than you require.
Meaning you could develop health problems with your heart or kidneys that could lead to death. However, some treatments can treat these disorders. This post aims to provide you with the most common eating disorder types, treatments, and where you can get help.
But let’s also be honest, every creature on the planet has a relationship with food that begins in the womb and continues until we die. Thus many people can have a dysfunctional relationship with food periodically or continually throughout their life journey. Cedars Group state that there are 5 categories of eating scenarios that can assist you in understanding if you are a regular, dysfunctional or disordered eater.
I will throw the first pebble in the pond by stating that I have had a dysfunctional relationship with food periodically throughout my life. It kicked off in my late teens when I worked as a student nurse, and my gran died. She died when I was at work, and I got that dreaded call about her death. I dropped the phone, ran to the nearest toilet and made myself sick. It was my method of coping with the mixture of job pressures, grief and being apart from my family. I have also been a passenger on the “wanting to be thinner, and then I will be happy” train. But to be frank, I enjoy wearing clothing more when I am, let’s say, a healthier weight.
However, what irked me off was that I did not want to be defined by a diagnosis, as for most of my 20’s, the ’30s, and 40’s I ate relatively functional. However, my weight would yo-yo, and I would join weight loss systems to get back to where I felt comfortable. But I did a lot of reading in the self-help niche to help with the traumatic issues that showed up on my canvas, not related to food, I may add. The self-help tools I applied to other areas of my life apply to food. So I am now working on that relationship. As we all have a relationship with food, I wanted to share my story and provide quality information on our dysfunctional periods or full-blown disorders in the one place. However, I hope that by seeing all parts of my blog, you will understand that I am more than a diagnosis, and you are too. That is very important to remember.
The Most Prevalent Eating Disorder Types
- anorexia nervosa develops when you have a gruelling desire to control your weight by not eating enough nutrition, exercising too much, or even both
- bulimia nervosa develops when you lose control over how much you consume and then take radical steps to prevent weight gain
- (BED) binge eating disorder develops when you consume large amounts of food until you feel full
- (OSFED) Other specified feeding or eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder. This disorder develops if your symptoms do not fit the expected signs for any other mentioned eating disorders.
- (ARFID) Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder develops when you avoid certain foods, limit your food intake or do both. Your beliefs about weight or your body shape are not the reasons you can develop ARFID.
- Orthorexia develops from an unhealthy compulsion for consuming “pure” food. Food deemed “pure” or “impure” varies from individual to individual. However, not everyone who follows a healthy eating regime is suffering from orthorexia.
- Pica develops when you eat items that are not usually deemed food and do not contain substantial nutritional sustenance, such as paint chips or dirt.
- Rumination disorder develops when you consistently throw up food but do not have a physical health condition that causes the puking. People with this disorder have been known to re-chew, re-swallow or spit out the regurgitated food.
How will I know if I have an eating disorder?
Many of those affected by an eating disorder are not aware they have a condition, or if they do, they can conceal the signs of their conduct.
Below is a table of the behaviours that often appear when you have an eating disorder. If you have a few of the following behaviours, it is crucial to get help promptly to ascertain if you have a problem.
It is also vital to realise that these behaviours are not always easy to spot. An individual who has an eating disorder can feel guilt and shame about their actions and do everything to hide their behaviour as it helps them cope with any issues showing up in their lives. Therefore, they will go to the extreme to conceal those behaviours from those around them. Whilst others are not aware they have an illness,
Please be aware that any mix of the following behaviours can manifest in disorder. It is also possible that someone can exhibit many of these signs and not have an eating disorder. Therefore the wisest decision is to seek a professional opinion as soon as possible.
|Behavioural signs||Physical signs||Psychological signs|
|Perpetual dieting (e.g., calorie counting, missing meals, fasting, avoiding certain food groups, replacing meals with fluids)||Rapid weight loss||Increasing preoccupation with appearance, body weight or shape|
|Confirmation of binge eating (e.g., missing large amounts of food from the kitchen, lots of food containers appearing in the bin, finding a stash of food that has probably been hidden in preparation for bingeing)||Fluctuating changes in weight||Deep anxiety surrounding gaining weight|
|Confirmation of vomiting or laxative abuse (e.g., numerous trips to the toilet during or shortly after meals)||Feeling cold nearly all the time, even in warm conditions)||Persistent preoccupation with food and food activities|
|Unrelenting or compulsive exercise patterns (e.g., exercising even if injured or in terrible weather, refusal to skip exercise for any reason, insisting on doing a certain number of repetitions of exercises, displaying distress if unable to exercise)||Erratic or loss of menstruation||Negative body image|
|Creating ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food lists.||Tell-tale signs of frequent vomiting —calluses on the knuckles, unexplained damage to teeth or swollen jawline or cheeks.||Completely distorted body image (e.g., complaining of being, feeling or looking overweight when they are a healthy weight or underweight)|
|Alteration in food choices (e.g., refusing to eat certain foods, claiming that previously enjoyed foods are no longer excellent, compulsive interest in ‘eating healthy’)||Frequent dizzy or fainting spells||Hypersensitive to criticism or even comments about weight or body shape, exercise patterns or eating patterns|
|Developing obsessive rituals surrounding food preparation and eating (e.g., adamant mealtimes must always be at a particular time, only using a specific fork, only drinking out of a specific glass)||Lethargy — constantly feeling tired or unable to carry out everyday activities||Noticeable anxiety that arises meal times|
|Abstaining from all social situations that involve food||Anxiety or depression|
|Repetitive avoidance of eating meals by using excuses (e.g., saying they have already eaten or have an allergy or dislike of certain foods)||Irritable or moody|
|Behaviour that focuses on food preparation and planning (e.g., food shopping, cooking meals for others but not themselves, taking charge of the family meals, reading nutritional guides, cookbooks, or recipes)||Lowered self-esteem (e.g., feelings of shame or worthlessness, self-loathing or guilt)|
|Obsessive focus on body and weight and shape (e.g., interest in images of skinny individuals, online weight-loss blogs and programs and slimming magazines)||Rigid thinking (e.g., perceiving everything as either ‘bad’ or ‘good’)|
|Repetitive or obsessive body checking (e.g., continually weighing themself, staring in mirrors excessively, pinching wrists, waist or jawline)||Feelings of ‘life being out of control.’|
|Avoidance of friends. And the release of previously enjoyed leisure activities.||Inability to control behaviours around food|
|Alteration to their usual clothing, such as wearing baggy fashion.|
|Being deceptive around food (e.g., secretly putting food in the bin, consuming food in secret (often only discovered due to several food wrappers or containers found in the waste bin) or deceiving others about the type or amount of food eaten)|
|Eating very slowly (e.g., rearranging food on the plate, eating with a small spoon, cutting food into tiny pieces and eating those pieces one bit at a time)|
|Consistent and persistent denial of hunger at any time|
What causes an eating disorder?
Eating disorders types do not discriminate, and they can affect people of all ethnic/racial origins, body weights, genders, and ages. These eating disorder types frequently appear during the teen years or early adulthood but can also arise during childhood or later adulthood. These disorders affect all genders, but rates amongst women are higher than rates amongst men. Men like women who suffer from an eating disorder possess a distorted body image.
Researchers have discovered that eating disorders result from a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioural, psychological, and social factors.
Specific research is involved in the study of human genes. Eating disorders can run in families. So, scientists are researching to identify DNA variations that could be linked to the risk of an eating disorder developing.
Brain imaging research is also offering an improved understanding of these disorders. For example, researchers have discovered differences in brain activity in women with eating disorders compared to women not affected by an eating disorder. This type of research can help develop new methods of diagnosis and even treatment of eating disorders.
Thus, there is no single culprit for eating problems – many professionals propose that they arise from a mixture of biological and environmental factors.
Individuals with eating problems often share common traits which could make them more susceptible,
- Perfectionism – needing everything to be perfect and rarely being happy with what you have done or
- Being very critical of yourself
- Being very competitive
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
- Lack of confidence in expressing your opinions
Stressful Events or Trauma
Eating disorders typically manifest at a similar time as you undergo significant life changes such as puberty, going to a new school, a new job, figuring out your sexuality, or leaving/ moving home. The issues could also result from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, grief, relationship break-ups or severe family problems. Or pressures at school or work such as exams or being bullied.
Films, magazines, social media, adverts, and peer pressure can result in us being surrounded by messages about our bodies and, in most cases, unachievable proposals about how we should look. You may not even be aware that it is happening, but you may compare yourself with unrealistic images and feel unhappy with yourself as a result. This kind of social pressure can impact your feelings about your body image and self-esteem.
Physical and mental health issues
If you suffer from physical or mental health issues, you can also develop an eating disorder. Having a physical or mental health problem can make you feel powerless, so you can end up using eating or exercise as a way of feeling in control.
Diagnosis of an eating disorder
The first milestone in getting help for an eating disorder is usually to visit your doctor. The National Institute for Health & Care Excellence offers evidence-based protocols for treating various illnesses. If your doctor believes you could have an eating disorder, they should refer you to an eating disorder clinician for further assessment or treatment. If you think you could have an eating disorder, see a doctor as soon as you can. It can be tough to admit to a problem and to ask for assistance. It could make things easier if you take a friend or relative with you to your appointment.
Once there, a diagnosis is attempted by “taking a history”, which involves talking about your feelings and behaviour. Be honest about your eating and exercise behaviours; it is vital, so your doctor can help you. It will also involve physical tests, such as checking height and weight and blood and urine tests. There can be other tests to check if you have any other health problems caused by the eating disorder. These could include kidney function tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).
Diagnosis is typically essential to be able to access treatment. Each type of eating disorder has a list of criteria that doctors and healthcare professionals use to diagnose eating disorders.
This diagnostic information can then be relayed to the team, treating the individual, such as a psychologist or dietitian.
The SCOFF Questionnaire, created by researchers at St George’s Hospital Medical School, is a reliable screening tool for detecting eating disorders. The questions look at some critical characteristics of anorexia and bulimia. Two or more positive answers to the following questions are suggestive of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
o ‘Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?’
o ‘Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?’
o ‘Have you recently lost more than one stone in 3 months?’
o ‘Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?’
o ‘Would you say that food dominates your life?’
When it comes to eating disorders, accessing treatment as quickly as possible is critical. The longer the condition continues, the more difficult it is to treat. Individuals suffering from an eating disorder are at a higher risk of suicide and medical complications and often suffer from other mental disorders. However, complete recovery is possible. The first stage is to have a thorough medical assessment to eliminate other illnesses or medical issues.
Many patients are treated successfully as outpatients, but hospitalisation may be essential for those with severe weight loss, serious binge-and-purge behaviours, metabolism problems, risk of suicide or depression.
Doctors typically prescribe antidepressants to treat eating disorders. These medications help balance any chemical imbalances in the brain that could cause or complicate the condition.
Doctors, nurses, and counsellors will help you eat healthy to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Whilst medication tweaks chemical imbalances; psychotherapy helps sufferers to understand and alter their negative thoughts and behaviours. Treatments will often incorporate a combination of individual psychotherapy, family therapy and group therapy.
During individual psychotherapy, sufferers learn to identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger negative behaviours and learn new ways to respond to those thoughts and feelings.
The National Institute for Health & Care Excellence mentioned earlier recommends the following talking treatments for eating disorders:
Adapted forms of cognitive behavioural therapy specifically for managing various eating disorders have been developed.
Family therapy helps family units to understand the disorder and become involved in the sufferer’s recovery.
Group therapy brings sufferers together to get support from one another and to share experiences.
You can access talking treatments through the NHS. Your doctor should be able to make a referral. There can be long waiting lists on the NHS, so you may be wiser to consider attending a therapist privately – but be warned private therapists charge for appointments. You can locate a private therapist through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
How many people have an eating disorder?
According to the beat website, roughly 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, and 25% of those suffering from an eating disorder are male.
According to the Anad website, eating disorders affect a minimum of 9% of the population worldwide!
We all have a relationship with food as it keeps us alive, and therefore every person walking the planet at some point in their life could be susceptible. But accessing the correct help can be the barrier that prevents many from getting things back to normal. A few charities can provide you with more information, helplines, support groups and much more. These are listed below.
https://anad.org/ – USA
https://nedc.com.au/ – Australia