Eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior. The
practice of an eating disorder can be viewed as a survival mechanism. Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol to cope, a person
with an eating disorder can use eating, purging or restricting to deal with their problems. Some of the underlying issues
that are associated with an eating disorder include low self-esteem, depression, feelings of loss of control, feelings of
worthlessness, identity concerns, family communication problems and an inability to cope with emotions. The practice of an
eating disorder may be an expression of something that the eating disordered individual has found no other way of expressing.
Eating disorders are usually divided into three categories: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Overeating.
Anorexia is a disorder where the main characteristic is the restriction
of food and the refusal to maintain a minimal normal body weight. Any actual gain or even perceived gain of weight
is met with intense fear by the Anorexic. Not only is there a true feeling of fear, but also once in the grasp of the disorder,
Anorexics experience body image distortions. Those areas of the body usually representing maturity or sexuality including
the buttocks, hips, thighs and breast are visualized by the Anorexic as being fat. For some Anorexics, weight loss is so severe
there is a loss of menses. In the obsessive pursuit of thinness, Anorexics participate in restrictive dieting, compulsive
exercise, and laxative and diuretic abuse. If Anorexia Nervosa is left untreated, it can be fatal.
Sufferers may feel terribly isolated and may experience the effects of starvation including:
- sleep disturbance
- reduced mental ability
- excess hair growth on body
- poor circulation
- feeling excessively cold
- dizzy spells
- thin bones leading to deformity or osteoporosis
- stunted growth
- digestive tract dysfunction
Bulimics are caught in the devastating and addictive binge-purge cycle. The Bulimic eats compulsively
and then purges through self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills,
ipecac, strict diets, fasts, chew-spitting, vigorous exercise, or other compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. Binges usually consist of the consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time.
Binge eating usually occurs in secret. Bulimics, like Anorexics, are also obsessively involved with their body shape and weight.
The medical complications of the binge-purge cycle can be severe and like Anorexia can be fatal.
Sufferers from bulimia may experience one or more of the following:
- Damage to kidneys
- Swollen salivary glands
- Damage to stomach and oesophagus
- Loss of body fluids
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Fainting spells
- Fits and irregular heart beats
Compulsive Overeaters are often caught in the vicious cycle of binge eating and depression.
They often use food as a coping mechanism to deal with their feelings. Binge eating temporarily relieves the stress of these
feelings, but is unfortunately followed by feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, and depression. Binge eating, like Bulimia,
often occurs in secret. It is not uncommon for Compulsive Overeaters to eat normally or restrictively in front of others and
then make up for eating less by bingeing in secret. For other Compulsive Overeaters, binges consist of “grazing”
on foods all day long. Similar to Anorexics and Bulimics, Compulsive Overeaters are constantly struggling and unhappy with
their weight. The number on the scale often determines how they feel about themselves. Medical complications can also be severe
and even life threatening for Compulsive Overeaters
Ten Tips Which May Help You to Help Yourself
- Buy a self-help book. Research has proved that self-help books can be enormously effective.
- Begin to keep a diary - write down feelings. Make your diary personal to you - be your own confidante and
friend in whom you confide your thoughts. Scribble, stick in photos, draw pictures - there are no rules about how you have
to use the space.
- Begin to be in touch with the feelings and thoughts around the binges. Begin to understand your underlying
- Ask yourself what is it that you really want instead of food - is it a response to the worry of work? Do
you really want a hug, a chat with a friend?
- Start nurturing and pampering yourself. Set aside time in the day for your own relaxation and leisure periods.
Prioritise your needs.
- Dare to say yes to yourself instead of no. Learn to accept the way you are and begin to appreciate and love
- Do not overly criticize or judge yourself harshly. Over zealous self-criticism will drive the compulsion
of the eating disorder.
- Draw a family tree to include all friends and all those living or dead. Write down your family history noting
dramatic or eventful periods of change.
- See if there are emerging patterns of behaviour. Look at the way you relate to others. Do you have equal
give-and-take in relationships? If not look at books on assertiveness or join an assertion group.
- Be gentle on yourself. Accept the way you are. Your eating disorder has enabled you to cope with difficult
circumstances. See if you can come up with other coping strategies which are less harmful.
There is a link below with photos of people with
eating disorders. However, I must warn some of you that some of the photos may be disturbing.