Eating Disorders – An Explanation

What is an eating disorder?

Any eating disorder is classified as a mental health condition. It involves someone using control of food to cope with feelings and in order to be able to manage life’s situations.  The symptoms include how we think about food,  how we eat, controlling or losing weight and being very aware of body shape and in particular our developing different eating behaviours. This will lead to our health being affected, together with our emotions and our ability to function in important areas of life.

food crisis concept

Recognising the problem

Everyone eats in a different way so how do we recognise that we have a problem? If we have an eating disorder we need to accept this as soon as possible and not try to deny or justify our eating issues. We need to seek help at as early a stage as possible. It is also important to remember that whilst it is predominately a condition that affects a younger population it is not solely targeting one particular gender, culture, age or ethnicity. At The Haynes Clinic we have noticed a steady rise in those asking for help of all ages and backgrounds. Some of this increase can be attributed to the covid pandemic and working from home but some is definitely due to the detrimental impact that social media can have on an individual.

What are the signs of having an eating disorder?

General factors such as:

  • Using food to manage our emotions, for example, eating our favourite foods to try and feel better and to lift our mood.
  • Eating in a normal or abnormal manner and then purging our body of the food.
  • Focussing a lot on controlling what or how much we eat and being aware of the calories of any item we consume.
  • Repeatedly checking our weight on scales.
  • Feeling unable to stop eating and going into a binge eating food pattern.
  • Feeling guilty for enjoying food.
  • Ignoring observations from friends and loved ones that we are losing too much weight.
  • Going regularly to the Gym and exercising obsessively
  • Using laxatives
  • Not eating in front of others

Most healthcare specialists believe that eating disorders develop or are caused because of a combination of psychological, environmental and even genetic factors. 

Psychological factors such as:

  • Worrying a lot about the future
  • Having obsessive and compulsive feelings
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Finding stress hard to manage
  • Fear of or even being verbally labelled as fat or overweight
  • Being vulnerable to stress or anxiety

Environmental factors such as:

  • Having a job where being thin is seen as “normal” or being in a work or social environment where we feel pressurised by our weight or body shape to compare ourself to others.
  • Bullying or abuse
  • Pressure at school
  • Being left out at school or socially
  • Critical and hurtful observations of our eating habits and body shape from others
  • Difficulty with relationships with friends or family

Genetic factors such as:

  • Family history of depression, eating disorders, or even substance misuse

Some eating problems might be triggered by other mental health conditions and those on the autistic spectrum and those having ADHD can struggle with the textures or types of food that they eat.  As already mentioned, social media and the rise of the internet influencers plant images in our mind of how we should look to others and this in turn will change what we eat and the way that we eat.

Asking for help with an eating disorder

When the way we eat or how we eat or what happens after we eat is becoming a problem, it is important that we recognise that our life is being affected in a serious way. At this point, we may turn to our GP as our first line of support: it is so important to find the courage to share our situation with another person. Once we have been medically diagnosed with an eating disorder, for example of Bulimia or Anorexia, then we can get the help we need. We may not want the diagnosis but at least now we know what we are dealing with – and that with help we can recover. These diagnosed eating problems can have a very serious effect on our mental health. Indeed, without the right kind of support or help, in time the condition can result in death.  This is why it is so important to try and seek help at an early stage as everyone deserves to get and is able to get better if they get that help.

The two main types of eating disorder

Anorexia Nervosa – or simply Anorexia – is diagnosed when someone is trying to keep their weight low by limiting how much food they eat, what type of food they eat, going without eating, over exercising at the home or gym and an overuse of scales to keep checking that there has not been any weight gain. Treatment for Anorexia would usually involve a type of talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help with managing realistic feelings around food and eating and to correct irrational preoccupations about weight and shape. It would also usually involve working with a nutritionist who will help by prescribing an adequate diet and by monitoring weight gain. At The Haynes Clinic we have found that within a residential, safe and monitored environment which combines close behavioural monitoring and meal support, this is a constructive way to start on a road to Recovery and a step on the bridge to normal living. Medications, such as anti-depressants may continue to be prescribed to help with the feelings of depression.

Bulimia Nervosa or just Bulimia is diagnosed when someone will get into a cycle of binge eating and will then control their weight by purging the body through vomiting or the use of laxatives The difference with Bulimia and Binge Eating is that when someone is binge eating, even when the binge is planned, there is no act of purging the body of the food. The act of eating in this uncontrolled binging manner can be very distressing. As with other eating disorders, Cognitive

Behavioural Therapy has proven to be a positive therapeutic approach in processing realistic and unrealistic thinking. Again, a residential caring facility, rather than the home environment, will be able to offer a more realistic chance of normalising eating behaviour and identifying environmental triggers and irrational thoughts or feelings that precipitate bingeing or purging.

The chances of getting better on one’s own from an eating disorder are much lower in the home environment and the constant relapsing back into old behaviour can increase our feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger and remorse. It is vital that the person suffering gets professional help as soon as possible and to not allow the condition to continue and just worsen.  The earlier that help is sought the better the chance of making a full Recovery.