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Eating Disorders

We all know that food plays an important part in our lives, nourishing us and keeping us healthy as we progress and grow from one day to the next. Our relationship with food can change from time to time, we may lose our appetite for brief periods, attempt to eat healthier produce or indulge in the odd craving. If we are feeling stressed, suffering from periods of depression or general anxiety, we may find that we struggle to eat properly, or we may eat comfort foods in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. The occasional fluctuation in your eating habits is nothing to worry about, however if you find that you struggle to eat a balanced diet for an extended period of time, you may find that it starts to have a negative impact on your health. After a while, you may begin to develop an unhealthy relationship with food that progresses into an eating disorder.

Suffering from a problem with eating can be difficult to understand and cope with, but the first step is understanding that sometimes eating disorders are not entirely about food. Although they are characterized by an abnormal attitude towards food that can cause an individual to change their eating behavior, the disorder can be caused by difficult and painful events in your life that you may be finding difficult to face, express, or resolve. Sometimes, focusing on food, your weight, or shape could be a way of disguising deeper problems.

The Common Types of Eating Disorder

An eating disorder can be categorized as a kind of personality disorder, and they include various conditions that can have physical, social, and psychological effects on a person’s life. The most widely recognized forms of eating disorders include:

  • Bulimia: Where an individual may attempt to control their shape or weight by binge eating food then deliberately forcing themselves to be sick or empty their bowels with medication (laxatives).
  • Anorexia nervosa: When an individual attempts to keep their weight as low as physically possible by exercising excessively to an unhealthy extent, or starving themselves.
  • Binge eating: When an individual feels compelled to eat excessive amounts of food even though they may not be hungry.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

Much of the time, people automatically blame eating disorders on a socially based pressure to look thin or weigh less, as many people, particularly younger individuals, feel as though they are expected to look a certain way. However, the causes of eating disorders are often more complex than this, and there can be more that drives a person to a disorder than simply a desire to look slender. In some instances, there are biological factors that can influence or provoke an individual, combined with a particular experience, to develop an eating disorder. Some risk factors which can increase the likelihood of someone suffering from an eating disorder include:

  • Being consistently criticized over body shape or weight
  • Particular experiences, such as emotional or sexual abuse or PTSD
  • Stressful situations at school, work, or home
  • Having a family history of substance abuse, depression, or eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem, anxiety disorders or having obsessive compulsive disorder

Although eating disorders can be more commonly recognized in particular age groups, typically within the teenage years or between the ages of thirty and forty, it is possible for anyone of any age, and any gender to be affected.

Determining whether you have an Eating Disorder

If you, or somebody that you care for may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is vital that you get them to see a medical health professional as soon as possible. Most of the time, during the course of an appointment or interview, a doctor will use a questionnaire typically referred to as SCOFF to recognize an individual who may be suffering from an eating disorder. The questionnaire will involve some variation of the following five questions:

  • Sickness: Do you ever force yourself to throw up, or be sick because you feel full to an uncomfortable extent?
  • Control: Do you ever feel concerned that you do not have control over how much or how little you eat?
  • One stone of weight: Have you recently lost more than a stone (six kilograms) over the last three months?
  • Fat: Do you consider yourself to be fat, or believe that you are overweight when others may suggest that you are thin?
  • Food: Would you say that thinking about food, or a relationship with food dominates your life in some way?

If a patient answers ‘Yes’ to two or more of these questions, they may be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

How Eating Disorders Can Be Treated

If an eating disorder is left untreated, then it can have a very serious impact on an individual’s life, disrupting their job, schoolwork, relationships with others and mental health. On top of this, the physical implications of an eating disorder can become so severe that they are sometimes fatal. Luckily, there are forms of treatment available for those suffering with eating disorders, although many professionals acknowledge that, a full recovery can take some time. It is essential that the person receiving treatment recognizes that they have a problem and wants to get better, and in times such as this, support is crucial.

Treatment will usually involve closely monitoring an individual’s health and relationship with food while helping them through understanding and dealing with the deeper psychological issues behind their disorder. This could involve the use of:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Dietary counselling
  • Medication – in some cases, antidepressants called SSRI’s, or ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’, can be used to treat bulimia and binge eating.

Alongside this, there are a range of other healthcare and mental health services available that can help people to deal with the effects and repercussions of eating disorders. Sometimes, people find self-help and support groups to be particularly useful, alongside personal counselling or therapeutic sessions. Remember, Creative care is available to help if you ever need further information or advice on what to do next regarding a mental health or care issue.