Today marks the start of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023. My Mind News studies the link between such disorders and mental health and examines how those struggling with such conditions might be supported.
What are the various types of eating disorders?
Eating disorders have long been linked with mental health issues. In fact, the whole issue of the link between the two can be a self-perpetuating circle. Eating disorders are often caused by poor mental health, but in turn, struggling with an eating disorder can degrade one’s mental health even further.
The eating disorder charity Beat estimates that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age, gender, race, or weight.
You might be surprised to learn that around 25% of those with an eating disorder are male, and most people with an eating disorder are not underweight.
The Mental Health Foundation states that with the proper support, those suffering from eating disorders can be treated through various forms of support and therapy.
Many of these start by assessing and analyzing the root cause of the disorder itself. The organization reported that, in many cases, the disorder had been caused by a traumatic event or a mental health issue that has been developing over a period of time.
Often the eating disorder is the mental health issue manifesting itself in visible form and is often the individual punishing themselves for being unable to deal with the causes of the mental health issue.
Types of eating disorder
There are several types of eating disorders commonly recognized. These include –
- Anorexia nervosa – trying to keep your weight as low as possible (for example, by not eating enough or over-exercising). You may have a distorted view of your body, thinking you’re larger than you are
- Bulimia nervosa – having an unhealthy cycle of eating a lot of food and then doing something to try to stop weight gain, such as vomiting or taking laxatives
- Binge eating – where you eat a lot of food in a short period on a regular basis. As with bulimia, you won’t feel in control of your eating.
If your symptoms don’t exactly fit the symptoms for any of these three eating disorders, you may be diagnosed with an ‘other specified feeding or eating disorder’ (OSFED). OSFED is the most common eating disorder.
Symptoms of eating disorders
If you or the people around you are worried you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you could have an eating disorder. Some common symptoms of eating disorders include:
- eating very little food or eating large amounts of food in a short time in an uncontrolled way;
- having strict habits, rituals, or routines around food;
- spending a lot of time worrying about your body weight and shape;
- changes in mood, such as being anxious, depressed, or withdrawn;
- making yourself sick or taking laxatives after eating;
- avoiding socializing when food may be involved;
- withdrawing from social groups, hobbies you used to enjoy or from family life; or
- physical signs such as feeling cold, tired, or dizzy; digestive problems; or your weight being very high or very low for someone of your age and height
Causes of eating disorders
There is no single cause of eating disorders. Many specialists believe they develop because of a mixture of factors. These can include, but are not limited to –
- Biological factors – such as a family history of eating disorders or changes in your brain or hormone levels
- Psychological factors – such as a lack of confidence or self-esteem or being a perfectionist
- Social factors include bullying, difficulties with school or work, or abuse.
Experts in the area of eating disorders consistently prescribe that dealing with the root cause of such disorders can significantly help to reduce the impacts of the eating disorder, if not eradicate it completely.
Indeed, some individuals with eating disorders may have a propensity to such conditions. While support and therapy may alleviate the symptoms, for some, this might become an ongoing battle for which there might be no ‘easy fix.’
Recovery from eating disorders is possible, even if it doesn’t feel like it now. Recovery might even feel scary, especially if your eating disorder has become a strong part of your identity or you’re worried about your weight or diet changes.
Think about what recovery might look like for you and what the benefits could be. It’s never too soon or too late to ask for help: it’s out there once you’re ready.
If you’re worried you may have an eating disorder, contact your GP. Your GP may not be an expert in treating eating disorders, but they can assess physical symptoms and refer you to specialist eating disorder services.
Other help is available
There are lots of different ways that eating disorders are treated. The most appropriate for you will depend on your type of eating disorder, its severity, and your personal circumstances and preferences.
Talking therapy involves working through your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a mental health professional in regular sessions over a set period. Different kinds of talking therapy are available for treating and managing eating disorders. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, or psychotherapy.
During therapy sessions, you may agree on an eating plan to ensure you get the appropriate vitamins and minerals from your diet. Your GP may also conduct an X-ray to check your bone health if you have been underweight for a prolonged period, which can lead to low bone strength.
You may be offered a guided self-help program if you have bulimia or a binge eating disorder. This involves completing exercises in a workbook and short sessions with a practitioner.
Supporting others with an eating disorder
If someone you care about has an eating disorder or is starting to show some of the symptoms, encourage them to see their GP and perhaps offer to go along with them.
It can be helpful to let them know they are valued, that you support them, and are willing to listen to them without judgment or criticism. Beat has further guidance on supporting a loved one with an eating disorder.
- Beat provides support and advice via its helpline and online resources about eating disorders.
- The National Centre for Eating Disorders provides resources for people with eating disorders and training for professionals.
- TalkED provides ongoing care, support, and practical guidance for people with eating disorders and their parents, families, and friends.
The link between mental health and eating disorders is well-documented. For those struggling with an eating disorder, it can often feel like there is no way out, and that self-perpetuating circle mentioned earlier is unbreakable.
Yet, with the proper support and seeking out the correct form for you, help is at hand, and that vicious circle can be broken.
The critical point to note is that help is out there, and with the right kind of support, your mental health issues and related eating disorder can be treated. But it is up to you to make the first move.