Eating Disorders – what are they?
Eating Disorders: There is no such thing as ‘normal eating’. We all have different eating habits which appear ‘normal’ to us. There are many factors that help you decide what is ‘normal’ for you.
A ‘normal’ eating behaviour for you could be either:
- one large meal a day
- two, three or four meals per day
- lots of small snacks
- eating constantly
- hardly eating at all
There are many things that can affect your ‘normal’ eating pattern:
Pressure and stress affect people in different ways. Some may go off their food, others may feel they want to eat more, sometimes referred to as 'comfort eating'. Sometimes, you may crave a certain food, such as chocolate, perhaps even at certain times of the month. Illness may cause you to eat little or not at all for a period. You may suffer with Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia; if so, Responsive Hypnotherapy© has proved to be a very effective treatment .
Some people can eat large amounts of food and do not gain weight whilst others eat much less and gain weight.
If someone eats too much or too little over a long period of time, they could have a problem with eating. They may be developing a full-blown eating
If food is becoming increasingly important in your life; so much so, that it dominates your thoughts and becomes the most important thing in your life, you have an eating disorder.
Eating Disorders - Do you do any of the following?
- Deny yourself food, even when you are very hungry,
- Snack or pick when not hungry
- Binge even when full
- You find that food is on your mind all the time
- How much you weigh is on your mind all the time
- Food feels like an addiction and starts to dominate your day
- Food is affecting your quality of life
A food addiction or the opposite, hating eating creates a huge problem. You need to eat food to survive. Therefore; you have no choice but to battle with your problem daily.
Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are usually divided into five main categories. Please click the titles below to see the individual pages for full information on these.
A sufferer must understand that eating disorders aren’t just about food and eating or not eating. Eating disorders are also usually about difficult problems and painful emotions, which are difficult to face, talk about or resolve. The eating disorders people have usually a way of hiding these problems.
Eating disorders are characterised by severe disturbances in eating behaviour. The practice of an eating disorder can be viewed as a survival mechanism. Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol to cope, people with eating disorders can use overeating, purging or restricting food to ‘deal’ with their problems. The practice of an eating disorder may be an expression of something that the eating disordered individual has found no other way of expressing.
What causes eating disorders?
Some of the underlying issues that are associated with eating disorders include:
- Low self-esteem
- Self-image issues – body dysmorphic disorder
- Feelings of loss of control
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Identity concerns
- Family communication problems
- Inability to cope with emotions
Other reasons are looked at in more detail below.
There is seldom just one cause in the development of eating disorders. There are usually multiple causes, which may be to do with the person’s character, past experiences and/or their current circumstances.
Personality is a major factor in determining someone's vulnerability. The following characteristics make you more vulnerable to eating disorders:
- Perfectionism – rarely having satisfaction with what you have achieved. You feel you can always do better
- Being over-competitive – trying be the best at everything
- Obsessive compulsive behaviour
- Having difficulties in expressing yourself to others
- Family life and/or relationship problems
Eating problems often start in childhood and may become worse due to childhood experiences. If the sufferer had parents that were overbearing or strict disciplinarians, they may have felt they had no control over their life.
So, they began using food-regulation as a way of gaining some control over their life. Some individuals may have come from a family where there was a strong focus on food; either large portions as a way of showing ‘love’ or, conversely, always observing a strict, healthy diet.
In most cases, the family of the eating disorder sufferer have difficulty in understanding the problems. They often place extra pressure on the sufferer to eat ‘normally’. This exacerbates the problem.
It is possible that people inherit a gene that makes eating problems more likely. There is evidence of higher concordance rates in some families, but this could also be attributed to learned behaviour.
The following are examples of stressful events or traumas that are often the trigger for the onset of an eating disorder:
- physical, mental or sexual abuse
- the death of someone close – relative or friend
- Serious family issues – parents getting divorced, one being sent to prison
- Pressures at school – exams, homework, coursework deadlines
- Pressures at work – long hours, project deadlines
- Starting a new school or new job – promotion
- Bullying or harassment
- Puberty – hormone and body shape changes
- Sexual issues
To other people, the eating disorder looks like it has just appeared from nowhere; often, with no obvious cause.
People may have underlying issues with their physical or mental health that they can do nothing about. So, they may also develop an eating disorder; this is because eating is something that they can have control of.
The media and fitness
We are continuously exposed to images of ‘perfect’ people on TV, in magazines and on social media. Women are expected to be thin and men lean, but muscular. The truth is, many of the women are undernourished and the men have unhealthily low levels of body fat.
Children, as well as adults, are bombarded with these 'perfect' images. They are even built into games and toys. There is, therefore, a perceived pressure from society to conform to this idea of 'perfection'. This can make eating problems develop into fully-blown eating disorders.
It is becoming more and more acceptable for over-dieting and over-exercising to appear normal. This often begins to dominate people’s lives. Many sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa exercise far too much, whilst not adequately nourishing themselves.
What should I do?
If you feel you are developing an eating disorder, getting help early on is very important.
You may wish to see your GP. They can check that your symptoms (weight loss or gain) are not due to an underlying physical condition.
If there are no underlying conditions causing the problem, the eating disorder needs to be treated ASAP. Treatment is usually through changing both the eating pattern and addressing the emotions behind it.