Eating disorders are a range of mental health conditions that see people develop an abnormal attitude towards food. They affect people psychologically and physically, causing them to change their eating habits and behaviour. Those with eating disorders are likely to be focused on their weight, shape and/or what they eat. This typically leads them to make unhealthy choices which can have devastating consequences.
On this page we will look at the most common eating disorders, including:
- binge eating disorder.
As well as looking at the signs and symptoms, we will explain how hypnotherapy can provide support to those receiving treatment for eating disorders.
What are eating disorders?
Eating is something we all have to do to live, but for some the relationship with food becomes complex. Some people may develop unusual eating habits or become emotionally reliant on food, for example. This is commonly referred to as 'disordered eating'.
While this kind of eating can develop into an eating disorder, it is important to note that eating disorders are different. Eating disorders are serious mental health concerns. They change the way you think and behave - especially in relation to food and diet.
Often linked with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, eating disorders are incredibly harmful both psychologically and physically. They affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Statistics show they are more common in young women, however more and more cases of older women and men with eating disorders are highlighting the true scale of the problem.
There are several different types of eating disorders, however the most common are:
- binge eating disorder.
Some people are diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This is when a person is showing some, but not all, of the 'classic' eating disorder symptoms. This can be just as damaging to people's mental health.
The causes of eating disorders are very complex and often involve multiple aspects. There is no single reason why someone develops a problem with eating and the contributing factors will differ from person to person.
It is understood that a combination of biological, social, genetic, psychological and environmental influences are involved. Key risk factors that may make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder include:
- Having a family history of eating disorders or depression.
- Having someone criticise your eating habits or your weight.
- Feeling pressure to stay slim for work or a hobby.
- Having certain characteristics, such as an obsessive personality or a tendency to be anxious.
- Experiencing upsetting events, such as a death or abuse.
- Relationship difficulties with friends or family members.
- Being under a lot of stress, for example at school or university.
The element of control tends to be a common thread. Often sufferers will feel as if their size and weight are the 'only' thing in their life they can control. Having this sense of control can feel soothing to begin with, but as the eating disorder develops it is likely to take control of the sufferer.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition that makes people want to weigh as little as possible. In order to do this, sufferers will often go to extreme measures. Examples of this would be restricting the amount of food they eat, making themselves vomit and exercising excessively.
Someone with anorexia is likely to have a distorted image of themselves. This means that even though they are of a normal (or even below normal) weight, they will see themselves as overweight. The disorder makes the sufferer feel intense anxiety surrounding food. They will go to great lengths to avoid eating. This is because they fear putting on weight, or 'losing control' of their diet.
Anorexia tends to make people masters of deception. To avoid questioning or worried comments from friends and family, sufferers try to hide their eating habits. This may see them hiding food, exercising in secret or wearing loose clothing to hide their weight-loss.
Those with the condition are likely to have confidence and self-esteem issues. They may blame their weight for this and any other issues they are facing. Many anorexics believe if they reach a certain weight, these issues will go away and they will be happy. Sadly, this 'goal weight' always gets lower the worse the condition gets.
Signs and symptoms
Someone who has anorexia, may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- Eating very little, missing meals or lying about what they've eaten.
- Counting calories in an obsessive manner.
- Going to the bathroom after meals to vomit.
- Taking diet pills, laxatives or diuretics in an attempt to aid weight-loss.
- Repetitive body checking - this includes weighing and measuring themselves.
- Suffering from physical issues, such as hair loss and feeling dizzy.
If you are worried that someone you know may be suffering from anorexia, do not wait to see extreme weight-loss. While this is the main symptom of anorexia, the psychological symptoms come before this, and the earlier the sufferer receives help, the better.
Bulimia nervosa is another condition that makes sufferers feel the need to control their weight. Someone with bulimia will try to restrict the amount of food they eat, binge and purge.
Binge eating is when someone repeatedly eats a large quantity of food in one sitting. Usually this is done with high-calorie, fatty foods. Binges may happen spontaneously (often triggered by emotions like stress or anxiety) or they may be planned. During a binge, there may be a sense of mania or a loss of control.
After a binge, someone with bulimia will feel guilty, ashamed and worried that they will put on weight. In an attempt to avoid this, they will purge.
Purging is the act of ridding the body of food. Commonly this is done by vomiting or taking laxatives. Less common forms of purging include excessive exercising, diet pills and periods of starvation. Sufferers feel like they regain control by purging, and the urge to do it becomes more frequent. In some cases, the sufferer may feel the need to purge after every meal.
Understandably, this cycle of binging and purging takes its toll on both the body and mind. Those with bulimia may be within the normal weight range, making it all the more difficult to spot.
Signs and symptoms
Eating disorder sufferers are likely to hide their behaviour. They may also be in denial of the fact that they have a problem. This can make it very hard for them to seek support. The following signs may indicate that someone has bulimia:
- Being overly critical of their body and weight.
- Isolating themselves from people or situations.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after meals.
- Scars on the knuckles (from forced vomiting).
- Taking diet pills or laxatives.
As aforementioned, those with bulimia are more likely to have a normal weight, but this does not mean they do not need help.
Binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder, also known as BED, is a condition that sees sufferers binge eating on a regular basis. Unlike those with bulimia however, the sufferer will not purge after a binge.
Binges are usually planned with this type of disorder, and they are usually done in private. This is because the sufferer will feel ashamed and guilty after a binge and will try to hide their behaviour. Even though sufferers will not purge or even be underweight, they will still have a very complicated relationship with food.
In between binges, someone with the disorder is likely to try and control their eating habits and may go on diets in an attempt to lose weight. They are likely to suffer from low self-esteem and may feel socially isolated.
Many sufferers will be overweight and may encounter medical complications such as type two diabetes or heart disease. Someone with binge eating disorder may find it difficult to ask for help. They may feel guilty or as if they don't have a 'real' problem, and therefore do not 'deserve' help. The truth is that binge eating disorder is just as dangerous physically and emotionally as other eating disorders.
Signs and symptoms
Similarly to anorexia and bulimia, those with binge eating disorder are likely to be secretive about their behaviour. Common signs of this disorder include:
- Storing or hiding large quantities of food.
- Being secretive about eating habits.
- Putting on weight even though their diet appears healthy (they may be binge eating in secret).
Just like other eating disorders, overcoming BED takes time and support.
Once an eating disorder has been diagnosed, treatment can begin. Often, sufferers of eating disorders will fail to see that they have a problem, making it difficult for them to receive support. This makes it especially important for friends and family to encourage the sufferer to talk about their eating and to seek professional help.
The recovery process may go through several stages. Progress can seem to go backwards and forwards, so a strong support system is essential.
In order to recover, someone with an eating disorder needs to want to change. They will need to get back to a healthy weight while addressing the psychological aspects of the condition.
Starting treatment early will give the sufferer the best chance of recovery, but it is never too late to seek help.
Treatments tend to involve monitoring the sufferers physical health while helping them deal with the psychological aspects. This can be done in a multitude of ways, the most popular of which include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy - A form of psychological therapy that aims to change the way you think and behave.
- Interpersonal therapy - A talk therapy that focuses on relationship-based concerns.
- Family therapy - Eating disorders affect more than just the sufferer. Family therapy may be advised to help all members deal with the condition.
- Medication - Some sufferers will be prescribed antidepressants to help regulate mood.
If you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, your doctors will recommend treatments to suit your individual needs. Alongside these treatments, you may benefit from other forms of therapy, such as hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy for eating disorders
For many, a multi-pronged approach is best when treating eating disorders. This means using and trying a variety of therapies. Talking therapies and medical support can benefit greatly from additional approaches like hypnotherapy.
The aim of this therapy is to use the power of suggestion to change habits and thoughts surrounding certain things. For example, hypnotherapy for eating disorders would look to facilitate a change in thinking when it comes to eating.
Understanding the root cause of eating disorders can be useful for recovery. For this, regression techniques can prove helpful. These tap into your subconscious to reveal an event, comment or situation that may have contributed to the development of your eating disorder.
Hypnotherapy for eating disorders may also involve Neuro Linguistic programming. This can be used in various ways. One way may be to help you remember how you coped with distressing emotions before you developed an eating disorder.
Using positive suggestions under hypnosis can also help you change the way you think about yourself. Learning to love yourself again is an important part of the recovery process. You can also learn new ways of thinking about eating, gradually improving your relationship with food.
Hypnotherapy can also be used to help you cope with issues related to eating disorders. For example, you may suffer with anxiety or stress. Hypnotherapy can help you learn to relax and improve your overall well-being. Issues like low self-esteem and low self-confidence can also be addressed through hypnotherapy.
If you want to try hypnotherapy for eating disorders, it is recommended that you tell your hypnotherapist what other treatments you are receiving. This will ensure your hypnotherapy sessions complement other treatments you are receiving. It is important to have your weight and general health monitored by medical professionals while seeking treatment. This is to ensure you don't develop any physical complications.
Hypnotherapy for eating disorders can teach you techniques to help you cope with unhelpful thinking. This can be especially beneficial to ensure you stay healthy after recovery. If you think you are at risk of relapsing, be sure to seek support. Moving on from an eating disorder can be a long process, but there are always professionals available to support your continued recovery.
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