In this digital age where social media is constantly bombarding us with what the ‘norms’ should be for beauty and the ideal body shape, it is not surprising to see that eating disorders are on the rise.
This extremely sad fact is also accompanied by shocking statistics; recent research in the UK indicated that more deaths are attributed to eating disorders than any other psychiatric disease.
Eating disorders are complex illnesses with both psychological and physical aspects that require treatment. For this reason, it has become more common over the past few years to treat people with eating disorders using multi-disciplinary teams who can deliver the necessary medical, psychological and nutritional help.
Unfortunately, the list of eating disorders is growing and is not limited to anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as it was a few years ago. The rise of orthorexia and binge eating disorders has also deemed it necessary to shed light on the matter, to identify it and get the necessary treatment.
This article will focus primarily on binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder comprises periods of over-eating. People who suffer from a binge eating disorder may feel like they can’t control how much they eat, and feel distressed, depressed, or guilty after bingeing. Many people try to keep bingeing a secret. Binge eating can be a way to cope or find comfort, and it can sometimes develop after dieting. Some people may fast (not eat for an extended period of time) or diet after periods of binge eating.
Patients are often keenly aware of the energy content (kilojoules and calories) of different foods but that doesn’t mean that they know much about nourishment, how that affects the physiology of the human body as well as the organ systems.
This eating patterns does have health consequences and binge eating complaint can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or weight concerns.
Who is usually affected?
Eating disorders can affect anyone, but some people may be at higher risk.
- People who experience lower self-esteem or poor body image, perfectionism, or difficulties dealing with stress may be more likely to experience an eating disorder.
- A lack of positive social supports and other important connections may also play a big part.
- In some cases, eating disorders can coincide with other mental illnesses.
Our beliefs around body image are also important. While the media often portrays thinness as an ideal body type, this alone doesn’t cause an eating disorder. How we think about those messages and apply them to our lives is what affects our self-esteem and self-worth.
What can I do about it?
You may have a lot of difficult feelings around finding help—it isn’t always an easy step to take. Many people who experience an eating disorder are scared to go into treatment because they believe that they will have to gain weight.
Many also feel a lot of shame or guilt around their illness, so the thought of talking about very personal experiences can seem overwhelming.
Some people find comfort in their eating behaviours and are scared to find new ways to cope. Restricting food, bingeing, and purging can lead to serious health problems, but eating disorders are treatable and you can recover.
A good support team can help you through recovery and teach important skills that last a lifetime.
Treatment for an eating disorder usually involves several different health professionals. Some people may need to spend time in hospital to treat physical health problems.
Counselling and support
Counselling helps people work through problems and develop skills to manage problems in the future. The entire family may take part in counselling, particularly when a young person experiences an eating disorder.
It can be very helpful to connect with support groups. They’re an opportunity to share experiences and recovery strategies, find support, and connect with people who understand what you’re experiencing. There may also be support groups for family and friends affected by a loved one’s eating disorder.
There are many self-help strategies to try at home. Skills like problem-solving, stress management, and relaxation techniques can help everyone cope with challenges or problems in a healthy way. You’ll find many different skills like these in counselling, but you can practice them on your own, too. It’s also important to spend time on activities you enjoy and connect with loved ones.
A dietitian or nutritionist can teach eating strategies and eating habits that support your recovery goals.
How can I help a loved one?
Supporting a loved one who experiences an eating disorder can be very challenging. Many people feel upset or even frightened by their loved one’s beliefs, behaviours, or state of well-being. An approach that focuses on support and understanding rather than control is best.
Here are some tips to help you support a loved one:
- Remember that eating disorders are a sign of other underlying problems. Avoid focusing on food or eating habits alone.
- Be mindful of your own attitudes and behaviours around food and body image.
- Never force someone to change their eating habits or trick someone into changing.
- Avoid reacting to a loved one’s body image talk or trying to reason with statements that seem unrealistic to you.
- If your loved one is an adult, remember that supporting help-seeking is a balance between your own concerns and their right to privacy.
- If your loved one’s experiences are affecting other family members, family counselling may be helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and seek support for yourself.
If you suspect that you might have an unhealthy relationship with food, please seek help sooner rather than later. Using food, or the lack of it, to cope with distressing emotions and situations is an unproductive way of managing life. All eating disorders are addictions, and it is the nature of an addiction to alienate a person further and further from their own inner truth. Addictions also usually drastically stunt emotional growth. Once a person accepts that they have an eating disorder, and they seek good medical help, the healing journey is one that is difficult yet immensely gratifying.
Not only can they recover, but they find out who they really are – smart and exceptionally intuitive people who developed a coping mechanism to keep their ‘heads above water’ during extremely challenging times in their lives. Once they develop healthy ways of managing difficult emotions, they can go on to thrive, and create healthy and very happy lives.