What are eating disorders?

06 Feb 2020

Every day we are bombarded with endless, often contradictory messages about what we eat, how we eat, and what we ‘should’ look like:

Too fat, too skinny, lose weight, gain weight, fad diets, change your body, be proud of your body, treat yourself, detox yourself, eat 5 fruit-and-veg-a-day, 2-wholegrains-a-day, 2-oily-fish-a-week.

It’s no wonder that around 5% of the population will develop some kind of eating disorder at some point.

Often, people with eating problems feel shame about their symptoms, and this can be a barrier to seeking help.  However, many people who receive treatment make a lasting recovery and see great improvements across all aspects of their mental and physical health.

What are the different types of eating disorder?

There are three main types of eating disorder in adults:

1. Anorexia nervosa. Characterised by a body weight that is less than what would be expected given someone’s age, height etc. Sufferers tend to restrict their eating due to concerns about their weight and shape (such as a fear of weight gain) and lose weight.
2. Bulimia nervosa. Characterised by regular binge eating followed by “compensatory behaviours” like vomiting, exercising, and restricting one’s eating and are an attempt to prevent weight gain.
3. Binge-eating disorder. Characterised by Individuals by binge eating (as in bulimia nervosa) but without compensatory behaviours. The binge eating often occurs in secret and is associated with significant distress.

Children can present with the problems described above but can show slightly different symptoms:

  • Failure to reach growth targets.
  • Difficulty describing a “loss of control”.
  • There are also some disorder that are more common in children, such as pica (compulsive eating of non-foods) or ARFID, (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder).

How are eating disorders diagnosed?

In some cases, problems with eating can be caused by other conditions – either psychological or physical – or by some medications.  One aim of the assessment is to ensure that you are offered the most appropriate treatment.

During your assessment, you’ll be asked questions about:

Your current eating habits and how they developed

  • Your current life circumstances
  • Screening for other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and phobias.
  • These will be done through a mxiture of conversation and questionnaires.

Your physical health. 

  • Conditions such as diabetes can often occur alongside eating disorders and may require particular management.
  • Purging and weight loss can cause physical problems and it is important to monitor these carefully.
  • Your clinician will usually liaise closely with your GP to make sure you are physically safe to continue in outpatient treatment.

What is the treatment for it?

Most psychological treatments for eating problems focus on disrupting the factors and habits that behind it.  This might include looking at eating patterns, reducing unhealthy body checking, and dietary rules.

Treatment often involves a type of CBT called CBT, specially designed for eating problems.  Just like other CBT approaches, your clinician will work together with you and focus on what is keeping your eating problem going. 

We can help.

Beginning the assessment process can be worrisome, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Contact us today with your questions at [info]. We’ll be happy to help identify the best next step for you.