Eating disorders are often misunderstood but they can have terrible consequences for those who suffer from them. They can affect your relationship with food, your self-esteem and how you imagine other people see you. Fortunately, there is help available and with professional treatment at Linwood House, you can overcome your eating disorder and build healthier relationships with food, eating and your own body.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are behavioural addictions characterised by abnormal eating behaviours that negatively impact your physical and/or mental health. It is thought that over 700,000 people in the UK have an eating disorder but it is difficult to estimate how accurate these statistics are. Ninety per cent of people with eating disorders are female and they usually emerge when you are an adolescent or young adults.
Despite these statistics, it is important to remember that anyone can develop an eating disorder. Eight-five percent of people with eating disorders are not underweight so it can be hard to spot signs of an eating disorder in people who do not fit the stereotype. For example, older people, men and boys, and ethnic and cultural minority groups may be overlooked.
Common eating disorders include:
- Binge eating disorder – The most common eating disorder, BED is characterised by a loss of control leading you to eat large amounts of food frequently, quickly and often until you are uncomfortable. It also causes feeling of guilt or ashamed or shame afterwards.
- Bulimia nervosa – Another common eating disorder, excessive binge eating followed by purging either through vomiting or taking laxatives. Bulimia can also involve an obsession with your physical appearance or limiting the amount of food you eat.
- Anorexia nervosa – Characterised by an obsession with low weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, strictly restricting food and over-exercising to manage weight. You may believe that you are overweight when you are actually underweight and create rules that determine what, when and where you can eat. Some sufferers are obsessed with checking their bodies regularly while others will avoid scales and mirrors.
- Atypical eating disorders – These are eating disorders that closely resemble eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for either. For example, if your weight is above the diagnostic threshold for anorexia but you partake in many of the behaviours of someone suffering from it.
Causes of eating disorders
The causes of eating disorders are complicated and not entirely clear but there are thought to be biological, psychological and social risk factors:
Biological risk factors
- Family history of an eating disorder as well as other mental health conditions – genetics is involved in this risk, as well as being exposed to unhealthy eating habits
- Type one diabetes
- Age – eating disorders are most common in your teens and early twenties
Psychological risk factors
- Anxiety and depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Low self-esteem
- Perfectionism, particularly when directed at yourself
**Generally, eating disorders tend to be a way of coping with difficult feelings, so they are not all about food but often about your emotional state.
Social risk factors
- History of dieting – weight loss is often praised, which can make you diet more
- Beauty standards tend to put a higher worth on slim and toned figures
- Bullying can affect your mental health and feelings of control, so you may control your eating to cope
- Loneliness and isolation
- Trauma, including physical and sexual abuse
Signs of an eating disorder
Understanding signs of eating disorders can help you recognise if you or a loved one has a problem and needs help. Common symptoms to look out for:
- Abnormally low or high body weight
- Eating in secret
- Irregular diet
- Going to the bathroom frequently after eating
- Obsession with weight gain or loss
- Obsession with physical appearance
- Stress or discomfort around eating
You may not experience all of these symptoms and they differ depending on which disorder you have and other personal factors. You may be diagnosed with an atypical eating disorder if you do not fit into the diagnostic criteria of a specific eating disorder.
Risks of eating disorders
There are many physical and psychological risks that come with eating disorders. In fact, someone with anorexia nervosa may be over five times more likely to die than someone of the same age and gender in the general population. For those with bulimia, it is two times more likely.
Physical effects of eating disorders
- Dehydration and malnutrition – This can cause kidney failure, seizure, constipation, muscle cramps, decreased immune function, and anaemia.
- Digestion problems – Including nausea and vomiting, blocked intestines, bacterial infections and stomach pain. Throwing up can also cause dental and oesophagus damage.
- Heart problems – This is particularly likely with anorexia. Muscles and tissues start to break down when you do not have enough food. This creates an increased risk of heart failure as the heart muscle starts to break down or does not have enough energy to fuel to pump blood properly.
- Hormone changes – In particular, oestrogen and testosterone levels can change which can affect periods and bone density.
- Impaired brain function – This occurs when your brain does not have enough fuel to function properly.
- Hyperthermia – A common issue which occurs when your body does not get enough energy making it difficult to stay warm.
Eating disorder myth buster
Myth: People with eating disorders are always underweight…
Truth: Most people with eating disorders are actually either a healthy weight or overweight. There are many aspects and symptoms of eating disorders so it is important to remember that being considered a healthy weight does not mean you do not have an eating disorder.
Myth: Eating disorders only affect young girls…
Truth: While eating disorders disproportionately affect young girls and women, they can affect anyone.
Myth: Eating disorders are a choice…
Fact: eating disorders are extremely unpleasant for those suffering and their loved ones. They are mental health disorders and are never a personal choice.
Myth: Parents are to blame…
Fact: Parents and carers often cannot do anything to prevent their children from developing an eating disorder. However, if you have a child with an eating disorder, you may be able to help with their recovery by seeking professional help.
Myth: People with eating disorders are vain and seeking attention…
Fact: Eating disorders are not just about looking a certain way. In fact, it is common for people with eating disorders to try to hide it rather than flaunt it and these conditions should be treated as mental health disorders not as an attempt to seek attention.
Myth: People cannot recover from an eating disorder…
Fact: While there are genes that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, this does not mean you cannot recover. Many factors contribute to developing an eating disorder, and with the right support, you can recover.
Treatment for eating disorders
At Linwood House, we understand the struggles of reaching out for support. There may be many reasons you developed an eating disorder, and it might seem impossible to recover. Rest assured that with our comprehensive rehab treatment, you can overcome these awful conditions and start a new life.
Our treatment programmes are proven to help you overcome the particular eating disorder you have and any co-occurring disorders that have led to your addiction. You will receive an initial consultation to discern the best dietary and therapy programme which can include counselling, psychotherapy and group therapy.
The next steps
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, there is hope. Your condition is treatable, and many people go on to recover and live happy and healthy lives with the right treatment. Get in touch with Linwood House today to find out more about our eating disorder treatment programmes.