As we come out of the pandemic, we’re seeing pressure on eating disorder service provision triple. This is particularly true of body image, security and self-esteem, with social media fuelling negative body image and eating disorders.
Disordered eating is a serious health concern, but currently, there is little provision for it, and if untreated can develop into a full-blown eating disorder. In adults, it can be challenging to treat, but early intervention with sensible nutritional advice and psychotherapy could prevent more serious conditions such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia.
Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating
An eating disorder is a mental health illness affecting both men and women. An eating disorder can arise when the idea of eating, food, exercise, and weight becomes an obsessive concept in your life. They can be thought of as any abnormal pattern of eating, such as irregular, erratic, and inconsistent eating, that causes significant disruption to daily life.
The obsession with food or dieting can cause extreme damage to an individual’s emotional, physical, and social well-being. While different types of eating disorders present different symptoms, the focus is always an unhealthy preoccupation with body shape, body weight, food, or exercise.
We speak of a disordered eating (DE) when we have a variety of abnormal eating behaviours that do not warrant a diagnosis of an eating disorder. Some of those behaviours could be:
- Abnormal eating patterns, rigid rituals and routines around food and exercise.
- ‘yo-yo dieting’.
- A preoccupation with food and body image that negatively impacts one’s quality of life.
- Feelings of guilt/shame associated with food.
- Noticeable and sudden changes in weight.
Lack of services for DE Treatment
While in and of itself, disordered eating (DE) is not a diagnosis, it is becoming increasingly prevalent, and there is currently a gap in the provision for people impacted by DE. Social media tells women (but also men) how they should look, what they should eat, and how to exercise, and it negatively impacts their self-esteem, which is driven by two areas of your well-being: physical and mental.
There is a great deal of conflicting information about what’s good for you. For example, food and calorie deficit, reducing carbs, intermittent fasting, the benefits of a vegan diet, and numerous conflicting images that we are bombarded with centred around exercise. It has resulted in a whole new eating disorder called orthorexia, an unhealthy focus on eating healthily.
Human nature is to seek validation, connection, and social acceptance. The characteristics of DE could be measured by the amount of your headspace you give up worrying about what you weigh, what you eat, and your body image. People may avoid social situations because they feel like they don’t look right or may avoid appearing in photos. They may also engage in ‘fad’ diets, removing whole food groups from their diets.
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Suzana Corciova from Orchestrate Health, who specialises in Eating Disorders and Body Image, said, “In our everyday lives, everyone around us is telling us how we should look, dress and act and for many, that pressure has taken over, which can cause a detrimental impact on both physical and mental health. We need to support and allow ourselves to be ‘not perfect’.
In a society where disordered eating is exponentially increasing and is normalised, the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating can be very muddled, and it becomes even more important to recognise these difficulties early and address them.”
DE doesn’t discriminate and can often affect highly successful people who feel they need to be perfect. In fact, in teenagers and young adults, there is a direct link between high achievement and eating disorders because they can’t bear to fall short of their expectations of themselves.
The team at Orchestrate Health have seen this in many clients who may have a reputation, public profile, and family expectation pressures that can lead them to have a disordered approach to eating. They help patients identify this early and find a resolution before any further ED develops.
The Link Between Mental Health and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening medical conditions. Many aspects, such as genetics, childhood, social pressures, bullying, relationship challenges, abuse, trauma, poor body image, and stress, can all play a role.
Eating disorders go beyond an unhealthy relationship with food. Many people with an eating disorder also suffer from depression, anxiety, chronic stress, or other mental illness. For some individuals, the pain and distress they feel deep down inside can cause them to develop an eating disorder to deal with their underlying emotional and psychological problems.
They can’t control external factors such as family trauma, abuse, or expectation or solve their feelings of isolation, sadness, and loneliness, but they can control what they eat, which in some cases makes them feel more empowered.
A healthy relationship with food is at the core of both psychological and physical well-being. Since primary school, we have been taught the basics of a proper diet and nutrition: load your plate with colourful fruits and veggies, cut down on sugar, and seek out some form of dairy every day to ensure you have all the vitamins and minerals your growing body needs. So, what happens when your relationship with food isn’t quite as simple as it used to be?
When the idea of food is distorted into anything other than fuel for our needs, dangerous behaviours can arise. However, eating disorders are more than an aversion to food – they go much deeper, beyond what anyone on the outside can see.
If you are questioning your eating habits, ask yourself the following:
- Am I preoccupied with being thinner?
- Am I afraid of gaining weight?
- Do I feel out of control around food?
- Do I feel guilty or ashamed for eating food?
- Do I obsess over my weight?
- Do I vomit after meals?
- Do I restrict food from myself?
- Am I tempted to remove whole food groups from my diet?
- Have others commented on my eating habits?
If you said yes to more than one of these questions, you might be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder. The good news? Over time, thousands of men and women have treated and overcome eating disorders. Recovering from an eating disorder is a journey, so be patient with yourself.
However, the willpower it takes you to fall into an eating disorder is the same willpower you can harness to get out. If you are questioning your eating patterns, or you suspect someone you love has an eating disorder, now’s the time to reach out for help.
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