Overeating, under-eating…. eating disorders and how to recognise them

March 2, 2018
Select Psychology

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a campaign run by Beat – a leading UK charity supporting those affected by eating disorders.

For this year’s focus the charity was asking the question ‘Why wait?’.

According to Beat people are waiting 91 weeks before realising they have an eating disorder, then after recognising the signs of an eating disorder it takes people a further 58 weeks (almost 3 years) to seek help.

Surprisingly a YouGov survey completed for Eating Disorders Awareness Week found that around one in three (34%) of adults could not name any signs or symptoms of eating disorders.

What are Eating Disorders? Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterised by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. Below are some of the types of Eating Disorders.

Binge Eating Disorder

Individuals who suffer from severe overweight conditions often experience additional psychological concerns. Experts generally agree that most people with serious binge eating problems often eat an unusually large amount of food and feel their eating is out of control.

People with binge eating disorder also may:

  • eat much more quickly than usual during binge episodes
  • eat until they are uncomfortably full
  • eat large amounts of food even when they are not really hungry
  • eat alone because they are embarrassed about the amount of food they eat feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating.

Compulsive Overeating

A person who compulsively overeats will eat food beyond a standard dietary requirement at various times throughout the day and evening. Overeating for long periods of time can lead to excessive weight gain and high levels of stress. In order to help with the process of weight loss, it is important for the person’s anxiety and compulsion to overeat to be addressed with therapy.

Emotional Overeating

When someone regularly turns to food for comfort and escape when experiencing emotions such as anxiety or low mood, this can be considered to be emotional overeating. The enjoyment of food as a reward can be normal, but when this happens so regularly that it is not in a persons control this can become an issue.  Learning to understand the differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger can be helpful to assist treatment.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterised by cycles of bingeing (overeating) and purging (ridding the body of the excess food usually by vomiting or laxatives) or by compensatory over-exercising.

Anorexia nervosa

People who have anorexia are very anxious about their weight. They keep it as low as possible, by strictly controlling and limiting what they eat. They restrict what they eat in order to lose weight because they:

  • believe they are overweight
  • have a very strong fear of being overweight
  • want to be thin

Even if they are already very thin and underweight, people with anorexia continue to want to lose weight. It is typical to be obsessed with calories, food, recipes and cooking for others. Sometimes a person with anorexia exercises excessively to use up calories or try to get rid of food from their body, for example, by using laxatives, diuretics or self-induced vomiting.

Orthorexia

This is an obsession with a “pure” diet, where it interferes with a person’s life. It becomes a way of life filled with chronic concern for the quality of food being consumed. When the person suffering with Orthorexia slips up from wavering from their “perfect” diet, they may resort to extreme acts of further self-discipline, including even stricter regimens and fasting.

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

This can mean a number of things. It covers eating disorder symptoms that don’t neatly fit a particular eating disorder diagnostic category. For example, a  person suffering from anorexia but still has a menstrual cycle or someone with disordered eating but is still an “average healthy weight”.  It can also mean the sufferer equally participates in some anorexic as well as bulimic behaviors (sometimes referred to as purge-type anorexia).

A person with diabetes may deliberately manipulate their insulin levels in an effort to control their weight (sometimes referred to a Diabulmia).

When to get help

All the behaviours described may indicate that someone has an eating problem. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder and would like further information on our services to treat these conditions please don’t hesitate get in touch.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Eating Disorders

There can be various causes for eating disorders to develop in the first place, often due to a combination of biological, psychological or environmental factors. After ruling out organic causes and the initial diagnosis of an eating disorder being made by a medical professional, such as a GP or Psychiatrist, a appropriately trained Clinical Psychologist can provide assessment and treatment of the underlying psychological components of the eating disorder and any co- existing psychological conditions. Eating disorder treatment focuses on restructuring and modifying eating styles and behaviours. The primary treatment incorporates cognitive behaviour therapy and other models of psychological therapy.

For further information contact us today – all enquiries are treated strictly private and confidential.

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