What is it
The benefits of good nutrition and regular exercise on our physique are well documented, but our involvement in these activities has the potential to develop into a more severe problem that can negatively impact on our well-being.
Recognising and accepting that you have an eating disorder can be extremely difficult. It often brings about feelings of fear, embarrassment or shame. Sadly, it is these reasons that prevent many people with eating disorders from seeking the professional assistance they require. The physical health problems associated with eating disorders are serious and associated mortality rates are the highest among all mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there has been considerable research done on eating disorders and effective treatments for eating disorders are available. Acknowledging that a problem exists and seeking support from friends, family and professionals are the first steps in safeguarding against the long term physical complications and in promoting a successful recovery.
What it includes
General Signs and Symptoms
Eating disorders share common characteristics including a pre-occupation around food, a dissatisfaction with one's physical appearance and a negative assessment of self worth based on weight and shape. Other warning signs include
• Rapid weight loss or fluctuations
• Strict dieting, restriction of food intake or fasting, despite severe hunger
• Strict calorie counting or avoidance of foods that are considered ‘fattening’
• Body image distortions (i.e. current weight is viewed heavier than actual)
• Excessive self-evaluation and/or weighing accompanied by an intense fear of weight gain
• Binge eating (excessive amounts of food are eaten over a discrete period of time), often accompanied by a loss of control or shame over this behaviour.
• Engaging in extreme weight control behaviours, including excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives or other medications; or fasting.
• Social withdrawal, isolation, mood swings, irritability and/or depressed moods
• Physical health problems, including fatigue, menstruation problems, cardiac irregularities and low blood pressure.
Specific Eating Disorders
The most well known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. What is less understood is that people often show behaviors that resembles both conditions, but do not meet the exact diagnostic criteria for either. This atypical eating disorder, is otherwise known as eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), a category which also includes binge eating disorder.
• A restriction of energy intake and/or persistent behaviours that interfere with the maintenance of body weight within the normal weight range (based on the person’s age, height and sex).
• The seriousness of this low body weight is often denied by the individual.
• Excessive self-evaluation and an intense fear of weight gain or becoming overweight.
• A body image distortion where one is viewed as ‘fat’, despite being significantly underweight.
• Recurrent episodes of binge eating in a discrete period of time, accompanied by a lack of control over this behaviour.
• Recurrent use of compensatory behaviours to prevent weight gain (excessive exercise, vomiting), or relieve negative emotions about the self, several times per week, for a period of several months.
• Excessive self evaluation that is negatively influenced by the individual’s current body shape.
Binge Eating Disorder:
• Recurrent episodes of binge eating (i.e. eating, in a discrete period of time or rapidly, an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances) when not physically hungry.
• A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating) and feelings of distress surrounding the behaviour.
• The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviour as in bulimia nervosa, and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
How a psychologist can help
Due to the complexity of the conditions, health professionals from medical, nutritional and mental health backgrounds (i.e. psychiatrists, nurses and psychologists) work collaboratively in the treatment of eating disorders. Based on severity, treatment is typically offered at inpatient or in community settings. Regular sessions are carried out over a number of months with initial goals focusing on the restoration of nutrition with the establishment of balanced eating and exercise practices. This is extended on with CBTe (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Eating Disorder) an evidence based treatment that focused on addressing the thoughts and beliefs that underlie the disorder, on improving body image and on developing more helpful ways of coping with emotions. Combining treatment with anti-depressant medication may also be help in reducing obessional thinking and urges to use eating disordered behaviors. Family based therapy can be useful for children or adolescents, but involving significant others in the recovery process can assist in providing support and maintaining gains for all.
AuthorDr Angela Hain
If you require additional information please call our office on 07 32566320. Our mental health focused administration staff will be able to assist you with your enquiry about our service and can suggest the most suitable Psychologist.