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5 Signs You Have an Eating Disorder

“Eating disorders are a life-threatening illness that can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter your age, your sex, your ethnicity. Eating disorders don’t discriminate.”

Kesha

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions compromising healthy relationships with food, body image and exercise. Eating disorders are characterised by disruptive thoughts, emotions and behaviours in relation toweight, food and eating. There are disparate symptoms, however there are many crossovers.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “Hospital admissions for eating disorders have increased by 84% in the last five years reaching a total of 24,268 admissions. New Royal College of Psychiatrists’ analysis of hospital data for eating disorders shows 11,049 more admissions in 2020/21 compared to 2015/16.” The case study disclosed that the rise in eating disorders among children and young people has risen significantly. “Children and young people with eating disorders are the worst affected with a rise of 90% in the five-year period, from 3,541 to 6,713 episodes, and a 35.4% increase in the last year alone. A stark rise of 128% is seen in boys and young men — from 280 hospital admissions in 2015/16 to 637 in 2020/2021.” The article continues: “An alarming increase of 79% is also seen in adults across the five years.” In America, eating disorders impact millions of individuals. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) 28.8 million people will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

What causes eating disorders?

Many health professionals believe that a person is more likely to develop an eating disorder if the individual’s first degree relative, parent and/or sibling also has an eating disorder, suggesting that genetics may play a part. A person’s environment can also certainly have an impact on mental and physical health. For example, if a child grows up in a chaotic, dysfunctional household, they may resort to manipulating their relationship with food and exercise. If there is also a family history of mental illness and eating disorders together with a volatile environment, there is a higher chance of the child/adolescent succumbing to an eating disorder. Compound these factors with peer pressure at school, bullying, excessive pressure to excel academically and low self-esteem, and the chances of developing an eating disorder escalate further. If there is another untreated, co-occurring mental illness in the mix such as OCD, depression and/or substance abuse, the wellbeing of the individual is seriously compromised.

Eating disorders are most commonly diagnosed among adolescents and, increasingly, children but can affect men and women of all ages.There is a higher proportion of women suffering with an eating disorder and there are various theories to explain this.  One of these is the differing brain chemistry of women which makes them more prone to this. For instance, Medical News Today writes: “Eating disorders are much more common among women than men. Now, a new study may have uncovered a neurological explanation for this disparity. Researchers find that women are more likely than men to experience brain activity relating to negative body perception.”

Although men are increasingly suffering with eating disorders many will go under the radar and remain undiagnosed or in denial of their condition.Recently, Ed Sheeran shared in Rolling Stones that he binged and purged to prevent weight gain. The pressure of public perception of physical perfection had taken its toll. At Addcounsel, our team of professionals have treated men and women with eating disorders, many of whom also have a co-occurring addiction to a substance such as alcohol.

Naming five widely diagnosed eating disorders

There are numerouseating disorders affecting people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Contrary to popular belief, binge eating disorder isn’t a case of overindulgence or lack of self-control. A person will often feel powerless prior to, during and after bingeing on food. They rarely follow up with purging their meals, however some may fast until the next binge. Feelings of distress and self-disgust are common during the binge episode with the individual ingesting as much as possible until they cannot physically eat any more. A characteristic of binge eating disorder will be gorging food when not hungry, in order to numb out.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous mental and physical illness which left untreated is life-threatening. It can take hold of an individual rapidly, transforming their personality, eventually leading to a complete withdrawal from any kind of normal life. As the obsession becomes all-consuming, restrictions on food ingestion will take over every waking moment resulting in extreme control around meals, obsessive calorie monitoring, overexercising, and secretive behaviours. A loved one will likely recognise a change in behaviour after a few weeks of anorexia symptoms, feeling helpless as to what to do. A person with untreated anorexia nervosa will go to extreme lengths to starve themselves and to control those around them in order to continue with their self-harm, in the same way that an individual addicted to a powerful opioid will resort to extreme measures to continue their usage.

The younger a person is diagnosed and gets effective treatment for anorexia, the better the chance they have of enjoying a healthy relationship with their body, food, and exercise in adulthood. The difficulty with treating anorexia in a typical group setting is that those gripped by the illness often compete to lose weight and starve themselves. They can hinder each other’s recovery rather than supporting it resulting in additional shame and low self-worth for the patient and feelings of hopelessness in those most closely associated to them. At Addcounsel, our one client at a time methodology is ideal for those in need of treatment for anorexia nervosa.

Pica

Pica is an eating disorder characterised by eating foods which hold no nutritional value. For example, an individual will consume non-food substances such as paint, soap, chalk or may still eat nutritional food whilst eating ice or cardboard. By and large, pica isn’t diagnosed in children under the age of two because infants tend to chew and place most objects in their mouths given the chance. Usually, symptoms must be consistently present for at least one month before a diagnosis is made.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a dangerous potentially life-threating eating disorder characterised by a cycle of binge eating shortly followed by deliberately purging to compensate for the bingeing and the feelings associated with it. Typically, an individual will consume much more than is required within a two-hour period, due to a lack of control. The person feels unable to stop ingesting while simultaneously experiencing feelings of self-disgust and shame. The individual will then go to extreme lengths to neutralise their feelings by vomiting, fasting, extreme exercise or abusing medication (such as laxatives). The eating disorder can damage internal organs such as the liver and kidneys and cause tiredness, dental problems, swollen glands and damage the lining of the throat due to stomach acid reflux. As with anorexia nervosa, a person is more likely to develop bulimia nervosa if there is a history of the eating disorder in the family unit.

Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED)

OSFED is the most common eating disorder diagnosis because many people will show symptoms of bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorders simultaneously. According to National Eating Disorders: “Despite being considered a ‘catch-all’ classification that was sometimes denied insurance cover for treatment as it was seen as less serious, OSFED/EDNOS is a serious, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder. The category was developed to encompass those individuals who did not meet strict diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa but still had a significant eating disorder. In community clinics, the majority of individuals were historically diagnosed with EDNOS.”

Low frequency bingeing (bingeing isn’t of sufficient frequency to meet the binge eating criteria), low frequency bulimia (purging not as frequent nor lasts as long as those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa), atypical anorexia and purging are all associated with OSFED. It is a serious eating disorder which requires professional help and support.

5 signs you have an eating disorder

Dramatic weight loss

This is most commonly associated with anorexia nervosa, however individuals diagnosed with binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, OSFED, and pica can show such signs. Once weight loss has reached dangerous levels, the individual will also experience great difficulty in regulating body temperature (needing to wear excessive clothing even in very warm temperatures) and will also feel physical discomfort when sitting.Dramatic weight loss could be linked to diseases such as cancer, and so if a person has suddenly lost weight, then consulting with a health professional is essential.

Personality change, extreme mood swings and secretive behaviour

Some of the changes which occur in an individual developing an eating disorder and which can often be overlooked or (in the case of teenagers) confused with the customary emotional changes of adolescence. Family members affected by the changes in their loved one are often alarmed and baffled by the complete transformation in the personality of the sufferer. 

An obsession with weight, dieting, fat grams and calories

We live in an age in which individuals are much more conscious of health and wellness. This is a good thing. However, when an individual has a preoccupation with weight loss or gain, or has an unrealistic or morbid perception of their body, this could be the early signs of an eating disorder developing or one that is undiagnosed.

Denying feelings of hunger and feeding others whilst refusing to eat

As we have hitherto explored one of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa is refusing to eat for long periods of time. Sufferers may paradoxically take great pleasure in preparing food for, or feeding loved ones, whilst withholding food from themselves.

Binge eating and purging

These are likely the most common symptoms in the minds of the public regarding eating disorders because many will know someone who shows such signs. Constantly binge eating (even without purging) can cause serious mental and physical health problems.

Compulsively exercising

It’s hard to say how often a person should exercise, but for some the obsession/compulsion to do so becomes all-consuming. Compulsively exercising may take priority over social and family engagements, compromise professional obligations and cause physical injury and additional stress on the body.

Summary

At Addcounsel, we understand how hard it is to recover from an eating disorder. Our goal is to treat not only the symptoms of your eating disorder, but to identify the core factors that have led to its development. World-leading professionals in a variety of fields – psychotherapy, hepatology, nutrition, and a range of other disciplines will take a holistic, 360 degree approach, building the foundation for long-lasting recovery.

Our dedicated team will help and guide you through the entire process from start to finish, in the comfort and anonymity of our discreet central London facilities. Please contact us now to start your recovery.

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