Eating disorders explained
How do you get one - and what are they anyway? Learn the basics about eating disorders.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is an illness that stems from both emotional and psychological distress, and results in an obsessive relationship with food in terms of over- or under-eating. Having the ability to control the amount and type of food consumed makes sufferers believe that they are coping with their problems and offers them a way to block out painful feelings.
What are the different types of eating disorder?
- Anorexia: A psychological disorder in which sufferers have a distorted view of their own body shape and weight, leading them to deliberately starve themselves of food.
- Bulimia: Bulimics fall into an abusive cycle of gorging on food until they are sick and get rid of all the food they have eaten. Many will also use laxatives to induce diarrhoea.
- Compulsive eating: Again, this involves binge eating, but unlike bulimia, these people are unable to purge themselves.
- EDNOS: Stands for 'eating disorder not otherwise specified' where sufferers have some, but not all of the diagnostic signs for anorexia or bulimia.
Who gets eating disorders?
In a word - anyone. Generally, they are most common among young women aged 15 to 25, but that doesn't mean that older women, young girls and men are completely exempt.
People with stressful lives and high expectations placed on them often focus on food as a way to divert their attention away from these strains. Likewise, traumatic events such as bereavement, bullying and family problems will also act as a trigger.
Whatever the cause, some things are certain about eating disorders: they are not just a 'teenage phase'; they do not develop as a result of rebellion or defiance; and they are not something that sufferers can just snap out of. To understand more, here's a true account of one girl's battle with anorexia.
So how can I help someone with an eating disorder?
People with eating disorders may try to hide their condition. If you know there's a problem, the most effective thing you can do is offer your support and encourage them to get help. Here are some of the signs to watch out for:
- Skipping meals or becoming obsessive about calorie content;
- Sticking to very low-calorie foods;
- Sudden loss or gain in weight;
- Behaving defensively when asked about food consumption;
- Wearing loose clothes to disguise body shape;
- Disappearing from the table straight after meals (to make themselves sick).
How can I help myself?
Eating disorders can be overcome. Recovery is possible even after years of illness. But no one can force you to get help. First, you have to accept that you have an eating disorder. It might help to:
- Talk to someone you trust - a family member, a doctor, friend or a trained counsellor;
- If your doctor can't help, find another doctor or contact the Eating Disorders Association;
- Ask to be referred to a dietician, or therapist;
- Be prepared that you may be offered counselling. Treatment tends to combine dietary control along with counselling to help deal with underlying problems.
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