Eating Disorders

The most common form of eating disorder is EDNOS. Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. However, where classification is possible there are three main categories.

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Bulimia Nervosa
  3. Binge Eating

Anorexia Nervosa is thought to affect around 1 in every 250 women and 1 in every 2,000 men. Bulimia Nervosa is around 5 times more common than Anorexia Nervosa and 90% of its sufferers are female. Both conditions tend to develop in the mid- late teens. It is unclear how many are affected by another eating disorder, binge eating, this is due to the difficulty there is in defining this condition. It is known, however, that this usually develops later in life- between the ages of 30- 40. [1]

What are eating disorders?

An eating disorder is defined as “a group of conditions characterised by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health.” [2]

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is where someone has a real fear of putting on weight. This leads them to starve themselves, sometimes coupled with compensatory activities such as slimming tablets or over- exercising to burn off ‘excess calories’. In a lot of cases, the focus on food is in an attempt to cope and also to exert some control over their life. With Anorexia, the sufferers’ weight will often drop to a dangerously low level but unfortunately, due to the distorted thinking that this condition causes, it is very difficult for the sufferer to make rational decisions. This is why getting help is imperative. Anorexia is the leading cause of mental health related deaths.[3]

Symptoms & Effects of Anorexia

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Putting tight restrictions on food and drink intake
  • Exercising, sometimes excessively, to burn off any calories taken in
  • Self- induced vomiting or taking laxatives to empty bowels
  • Avoiding eating with others and leaving the table quickly after meals
  • Cutting food up into small pieces so it looks as though some has been eaten
  • Dental problems, caused by vomiting
  • Lying about weight or how much has been eaten
  • Talking and thinking about food a lot, cooking for others but not eating oneself
  • Smoking or chewing gum
  • Menstrual cycle becomes irregular and eventually stops
  • Loss of interest in sex

Long term effects of Anorexia can be serious. They include, infertility, osteoporosis, exhaustion due to starvation, heart problems, depression and deat.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a condition that was only recognised in recent years. Rather than strict dieting and starvation, as is with Anorexia, those with Bulimia may eat large amounts of food in a short space of time (Binge eating) and then immediately use different ways to get rid of it. This can be by excessive exercise, using laxatives and/or vomiting or restricting food intake and starving oneself. As with Anorexia, Bulimia is a way of coping with life and the inadequacies a sufferer may feel by keeping control of their food intake. As weight loss isn’t so extreme with Bulimia, or weight may fluctuate a lot, family and friends are less likely to spot the signs and therefore Bulimia can go undetected for a long time.

Symptoms & Effects of Bulimia

  • Going straight to the toilet after eating to vomit
  • Using laxatives or taking excessive exercise
  • Binge eating and the opposite, starving themselves
  • Regular weight fluctuations
  • Avoid eating with others
  • An obsession with weight and food
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Depression
  • Dental problems from vomiting

Long term effects from Bulimia can include choking, organ problems due to the mineral deficiency, bowel problems from excessive use of laxatives, stomach problems from excessive vomiting, a swollen face due to inflamed glands, in the most extreme cases, death, caused by heart failure.

Binge Eating

Binge eating has only very recently been recognised as an eating disorder in its own right. Binge eating involves eating excessively, often when not hungry. This is often done in private as the sufferer may feel ashamed about the quantities they are eating. Unlike Bulimia binge eating is not characterised by vomiting or using laxatives. Sufferers’ often feel extreme guilt and depression over their binges. Binge eating is not as dangerous as Bulimia but the chances of becoming overweight are much more likely.

Symptoms & Effects of Binge Eating

  • Weight gain
  • Stomach pains
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Intolerance to hot and cold temperatures
  • Frequently eating abnormally large amounts of food
  • A feeling of a lack of control over eating
  • Eating much faster than usual
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating alone to avoid embarrassment
  • Eating to an uncomfortable level
  • Feelings of guilt, disgust and depression

Long term effects from binge eating are usually associated with extreme weight gain, leading to other problems such as heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

What causes eating disorders?

It is not entirely clear as to what causes eating disorders. Up until recently it was thought that genetics didn’t play a part in eating disorders and that the cause was entirely environmental. Now, it is acknowledged that genetics do play a part, in that a person is more likely to suffer an eating disorder should there be a history of it in the family. The biggest link, however, to eating disorders and what causes them are psychological factors. Depression, low self esteem, OCD, boredom and anxiety can all trigger eating disorders. Media influence cannot be ignored as a contributor to eating disorders, particularly affecting girls and younger women. Being criticised for eating habits or weight and also the family’s attitude to food can also be a factor. Stressful situations or bad relationships can also play a part, sometimes the control over food is one of the main controls sufferers have over their lives. Traumatic events can also trigger eating disorders, such as a death in the family. There have also been connections to sexual abuse and eating disorders.

Treatment Available

Eating disorders can go a long time without being treated as the sufferer tends to be very private and secretive about what they are doing. Also, the symptoms can go unnoticed. Sometimes, due to the distorted thinking that the condition has caused, rational decisions are difficult for the sufferer, making recognition and help all the more vital.

Recovering from eating disorders can take a long time, often with a few relapses along the way. A widely believed misconception is that it is about the food, when it’s more to do with the situation that someone is in and the feelings surrounding it.

It is vital that eating disorders get treated as they can have many negative impacts on life, including in work and relationships but more importantly, if serious disorders go untreated, the effect can be fatal.

Actual treatments for eating disorders vary greatly, depending on their severity and the disorder concerned. Sometimes, although not usually for Anorexia, you can self-help quite effectively. In more serious situations, you would first visit your GP, whom would then refer you to a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Therapist or Dietician.

Effective treatments can be:

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), interpreting situations in a different way.
  • Psychotherapy, looking at relationship issues
  • Psychodynamic therapy, looking at the relation between personal history and both past and current feelings and experiences
  • Dietary Counselling, understanding about maintaining a healthy diet
  • Anti- Depressant medication can also help in the recovery of this condition

Sometimes, more commonly with Anorexia, inpatient hospital care may be necessary.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may require help and advice please call the Via Clinic on 01372 363939


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