Eating disorders are one of the more commonly known mental health disorders. The media tend to portray a one-sided view of the diseases, focusing on young girls when in fact it can affect both men and women of any age. Often a way of keeping a level of control in a person’s life, eating disorders can be triggered by stress, media pressure to look a certain way and many other factors. Our personal relationship with food can often be complex and many people will develop learned behaviour from a young age to control their eating in a certain way, but when this begins to affect a person’s health and lifestyle this then becomes an eating disorder.
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of relationship a person has with food, e.g. if they are restricting intake or over-eating. Usually, the food itself is not the core reason a person develops an eating disorder - it is often much more complicated and can be very painful to share with others, leading to those suffering often keeping their struggles a secret. Common symptoms can include;
Like most mental health illnesses, there is no one reason for a person to develop an eating disorder. Studies have shown that in most instances, it is a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors that contribute to a person having a difficult relationship with food.
The intense pressure of an ‘ideal body type’ delivered in many forms of media can be extremely triggering for those who are susceptible to self-criticism or insecurity about their looks. This type of idealism is drip fed from a young age and can develop into control systems around food as time goes on. Environmental factors can range from difficult childhood experiences, learned behaviour from a parent or sibling, major life changes and pressure from an image-led career, e.g. modelling or ballet/sports.
There have been many studies into whether those with a higher need for ‘perfectionism’ or order in their life are more at risk of eating disorders, due to the controlling aspect of the disease.
What types of eating disorders are there?
There are many types of eating disorders, but the most commonly known are;
Anorexia Nervosa - Those suffering from anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and will attempt to restrict their food intake drastically. As with all eating disorders, anorexia can affect men and women of all ages, and can have a catastrophic result on the body, affecting fertility, the nervous system and causing multi-organ failure.
Bulimia Nervosa - Bulimia is characterized by extreme overeating (binging) and then ‘compensating’ for the food and drink consumed by excessively exercising, vomiting and taking laxatives (purging). This cycle continues, often in secret due to the shame felt by the person suffering from the illness.
Binge Eating disorder - Similar to bulimia, those who experience binge eating disorder will consume excessive amounts of food due to strong urges. This is not followed by purging, which often leads to the person putting on weight and feeling ashamed and negative about their body image.