When an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, their weight and body image becomes the primary focus of their life. The individual becomes emersed with calories and the macronutrient breakdown of food, often focused on fat and carbohydrates. Excessive exercise patterns and focus on body image allows the individual to displace painful emotions or situations that are at the root of the problem, giving the individual a false sense of being in control. Social media has played a significant impact on the way individuals feel about themselves and how they look. Eating disorders are not primarily about food, as the food has become a way for an individual to try and cope with difficult problems. Eating disorders are very complex as they impact an individuals sense of identify, self worth, authenticity and self esteem.
What are Eating Disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. There are many stages of disordered eating and individuals may find they have different symptoms at different times as well as a combination of all three at one time.
Individuals will restrict caloric intake as well as engage in excessive exercise regimes. They may describe feeling overweight or looking “fat” regardless or their actual weight or appearance. They will often think about their appearance, the number on the scale and use it as a measure of self-worth. Food restriction will affect an individuals entire body, possibly causing heart and kidney problems, low blood iron, bone loss, digestive problems, low heart rate, low blood pressure, and fertility problems in women. Individuals may also experience changes in mood and feelings of self harm or suicidal ideation.
Individuals will engage in uncontrollable amounts of food intake in one sitting, followed by purging through the use of vomiting or laxatives. These individuals also attach their weight and appearance to a measure of their self worth. Health problems may include dehydration, digestive problems, damage to teeth, mouth and throat, as well as kidney problems.
Individuals engage in over eating, feeling a loss of control during the process, creating a feeling of distress, guilt and depression after a binging episode occurs. This becomes a very secretive process due to the level of shame the individual experiences.
Who does it affect?
Eating disorders can affect anyone. Individuals that may be at a higher risk are individuals who experience lower self-esteem, poor body image, perfectionism, or difficulties dealing with stress. Individuals may experience a lack of positive social supports and loss of positive connections.
What can I do about it?
Most individuals who are experiencing disorder eating patterns express fear of seeking support due to a high level of shame and desire not to gain weight. Finding new forms of locus of control and healthy coping strategies can feel overwhelming for the individual. Reaching out for professional support is the first step to changing an individuals destructive mind set towards one of self love, acceptance and respect.
Counselling and support
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialetical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and Interpersonal Therapy are all effective in treating disorder eating in individuals. Changing one’s self perception and ability to take care of ones self through healthy coping strategies become imperative. Seeking out the support for nutrition counselling can become essential in identifying psychological beliefs attached to food and challenging destructive behaviours associated with food.
How can I help a loved one?
It is essential to remember that patterns of disorder eating are a sign of a much bigger problem. Avoid focusing on food or eating habits alone.
- Be aware of your own attitude and behaviour around food and body image.
- Never force change to eating habits.
- Family counselling may be beneficial in order to improve communication, establish healthy boundaries and identify an active recovery plan.
- Seek individual support for yourself in order to gain the tools needed when witnessing a loved one engaging in disordered eating patterns.
In all, seeking professional help becomes essential for individuals experiencing patterns of disordered eating in order to change one’s perceptions and behaviours.
Heather Kempton at Optimal Life in Coquitlam can help individuals engage in recovery from an eating disorder so that they may experience a more fulfilling and joyous life.