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Eating Disorders: What You Need to Know

A healthy relationship with food is at the core of both psychological and physical wellbeing.

Since primary school, we are taught the basics of a proper diet and nutrition: load your plate with colourful fruits and veggies, cut down on sugar, and seek out some form of dairy every day to ensure you have all the vitamins and minerals your growing body needs.

So, what happens when your relationship with food isn’t quite as simple as it used to be?

When the idea of food is distorted into anything other than fuel for our needs, dangerous behaviours can arise. However, eating disorders are more than an aversion to food – they go much deeper, beyond what anyone on the outside can see.

If you are questioning your eating patterns, or you suspect someone you love has an eating disorder, read on.

What Is An ‘Eating Disorder’?

An eating disorder is a mental health illness that can affect both men and women. When the idea of eating, food, exercise, and weight becomes an obsessive concept in your life, an eating disorder can arise.

Eating disorders can be thought of as any abnormal pattern of eating such as irregular, erratic, and inconsistent eating that causes significant disruption to daily life. The obsession with food or dieting can cause extreme damage to an individual’s emotional, physical, and social wellbeing.

While there are different types of eating disorders that present different symptoms, the focus is always an unhealthy preoccupation with body shape, body weight, food, or exercise.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

The concept of an ‘eating disorder’ is an umbrella term meant to cover different related conditions that all cause great changes in food intake/weight issues. Each one is a unique diagnosable condition despite society’s stigma around it being a ‘lifestyle choice.’

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals who struggle with anorexia aim to keep their weight as low as possible. This can be done through extremely restrictive patterns of eating, if at all. Even if they are dangerously underweight, those with anorexia may truly believe they are in dire need of a diet.

Anorexia Nervosa often develops in adolescence as teens are becoming more aware of their bodies, and how their physical appearance compares to others. While anorexia is more common in women, men are by no means immune.

Someone with anorexia may:

  • Constantly monitor their weight
  • Restrict themselves of food
  • Have an intense fear of gaining weight
  • Maintain a relentless pursuit of being ‘skinny’
  • Connect their self-worth to their weight
  • Suffer from a distorted body image
  • Display obsessive-compulsive behaviours around food
  • Avoid eating in public

Symptoms of anorexia may include:

  • A body weight that is lower than expected
  • Missing meals
  • Eating very little
  • Avoiding foods high in fat
  • Taking medicine to avoid hunger
  • A sudden halt in a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin

While much is still left to learn about anorexia, it has since been divided into two main categories: restrictive, and binge/purge. 

Individuals suffering from anorexia may either completely restrict food altogether or go on short-lived binges in which they eat past the point of being full, and then proceed to expel the food (whether by vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise).

Bulimia Nervosa

Similar to anorexia, bulimia is a well-known condition that often starts during the early years of adolescence. It occurs during a fragile time in many young men and women’s lives as they are suddenly hyper-aware of their body weight and shape compared to their peers.

Bulimia involves eating an unusually large amount of food in one sitting, with the intent of purging afterward through means of vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or excessive exercise.

Unlike the binge/purge subtype of anorexia, individuals with bulimia do not often lose an excessive amount of weight.

Someone with bulimia may:

  • Feel out of control when bingeing
  • Feel unable to stop
  • Eat until they are painfully full
  • Escape to the bathroom after meals
  • Feel intense guilt or shame afterward
  • Abuse laxatives or diuretics
  • Have a low self-esteem attributed to gaining weight

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Recurring episodes of binge eating and purging without control
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands (located in front of the ears/cheeks)
  • Tooth decay
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritation of the gut
  • Severe dehydration

In severe cases, bulimia can cause an imbalance in electrolytes resulting in a stroke or heart attack.

Binge Eating Disorder

You might be thinking, “Didn’t we just cover this?”  You’re not wrong – however, binge eating disorder is different to bulimia in the fact that individuals suffering from binge eating disorder do not take action to purge themselves afterward.

Similar to those struggling with bulimia, the control over stopping or limiting food intake is non-existent, causing these individuals to consume far past a comfortable level. This can lead to stomach aches and pains afterward.

Someone suffering from a binge eating disorder will not restrict the number of calories they are consuming, causing excessive weight gain. This weight gain then causes many complications such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an increase in cancer risk.

Someone with a binge eating disorder may:

  • Eat unusually large amounts of food in a certain time (typically 2 hours)
  • Feel like their behaviour is out of control
  • Lack the ability to control or stop a binge
  • Eat alone or in secret
  • Eat at an extremely fast pace
  • Eat even if they are not hungry

Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Low energy
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhoea
The Link Between Mental Health and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening, medical conditions. Nevertheless, the research behind exactly why they occur is not yet set in stone. Due to the complex nature behind eating disorders, there is still much information left to be desired.

What we do know, however, is that many aspects such as genetics, childhood, social pressures, bullying, challenges with relationships, abuse, trauma, poor body image, and stress can all play a role.

What is known, however, is that eating disorders go beyond an unhealthy relationship with food. Many people that struggle with an eating disorder also suffer from depression, anxiety, chronic stress, or some other form of mental illness.

For some individuals, the pain and distress they feel deep down inside can cause them to develop an eating disorder as an attempt to deal with their underlying emotional and psychological problems.

Final Thoughts

If you are questioning your eating habits, ask yourself the following:

  • Am I preoccupied with being thinner?
  • Am I afraid of gaining weight?
  • Do I feel out of control around food?
  • Do I feel guilty or ashamed for eating food?
  • Do I obsess over my weight?
  • Do I vomit after meals?
  • Do I restrict food from myself?
  • Have others commented on my eating habits?

If you said yes to more than one of these questions, you might be struggling with an eating disorder. The good news? Eating disorders have been treated and overcome by thousands of men and women over time. Recovering from an eating disorder is a journey, so be patient with yourself. However, the willpower it takes you to fall into an eating disorder is the same willpower you can harness to get out.

Orchestrate Health offers bespoke mental health services that people can access from the comfort of their own home or within their community, with rapid response times and even daily visits if needed. Orchestrate Health can provide help for those struggling with an eating disorder, and remove the inconvenience of travelling to and from appointments.





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