Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are an abnormal attitude towards food that causes a change in eating habits and behaviour. An individual becomes completely obsessed about their weight and shape, leading to unhealthy choices of food with an increasing risk to their health.

In some extreme cases a fear of actually eating normally becomes established even though sufferers will continue to be in denial and refuse to believe that they have a problem.

An eating disorder may develop from an eating problem where an individual starts to have a relationship with food that becomes increasingly difficult. A problem with eating food may be considered an eating disorder when an individual's behaviour meets the medical criteria for a diagnosis.

Those with an eating disorder and who may only eat a specific types of food can sometimes appear to be average weight for their height and build. It is their constant narrow focus and anxious, over intense obsession that eventually leads a sufferer to confront their condition.

Eating disorders often include a range of conditions, which can have a profoundly adverse affect on an individual's physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

There are several common eating disorders, mostly linked with the compulsive abnormal attempts to keep weight as low as possible.

The most common and well-known, are:
  • Anorexia –periods of starvation or excessive exercising.
  • Taking Bulimia – binge eating (when someone feels compelled to overeat) and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives.

Other types of eating disorders include:

  • Addiction to and restricting intake to one specific food.
  • Only eating certain foods or only eating from a certain food group, known as selective food intake.

Other types of eating disorders are not always straightforward to categorise and may be diagnosed by a doctor as EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Specified. Typically, an individual may have some, but not all, of the particular symptoms of eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

  • Complaining of being fat despite being either a normal weight or underweight
  • Repeatedly checking weight and looking in the mirror
  • Missing meals
  • Always claiming to have already eaten, or will shortly be going out to eat elsewhere./li>
  • Preparing big or complicated meals for others but eating little or none of the food themselves
  • Only eating certain low-calorie foods, such as lettuce or celery
  • Feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places, such as a restaurant

Risk factors for developing an eating disorder include:
  • Family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • Overly concerned with being slim, particularly if related to occupation
  • Having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • Past experiences, such as sexual / emotional abuse or bereavement
  • Difficult relationships with family members or friends
  • Stressful situations at work, school or university
  • Being criticised for eating habits, body shape or weight

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