Food and eating play a very important part in our lives. They are not only essential for our health and wellbeing, but they also bring people together, with the sharing of food being central to social events, celebrations and ceremonies. We therefore often associate different foods with different occasions and emotions, such as maybe associating homemade apple pie with the comfort of a family get-together for Sunday lunch.
We all vary in the foods we like, how much we need to eat, and when we like to eat. It is also normal for us to experiment with different eating habits, for example trying a vegetarian diet or maybe cutting out wheat for a period to see the effect on our health and how it makes us feel. However, when food is used to help us cope with painful situations or feelings, then eating patterns can become damaging. For example, food may be used to help someone cope during a time of feeling depressed, lonely, ashamed or as a way to control their environment and manage external pressures and expectations. Whilst we can all relate to the idea of comfort eating and restrictive eating, for people with an eating disorder, thoughts of food, eating, weight and shape encompass every aspect of their life.
Having an eating disorder is a lonely existence and is associated with many health problems. There is no single cause as to why eating disorders develop, but they are associated with a combination of many factors, events, feelings and pressures which lead to the individual feeling unable to cope. Controlling food intake therefore becomes a coping strategy, but as the disorder develops it takes control of the individual’s life. The media often glamorises eating disorders with dramatic weight loss, size zero and speculation of ‘near anorexic’ celebrities making the front pages of glossy magazines. The reality, however, is that anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders are complex mental illnesses caused by psychological distress. A person does not choose to develop an eating disorder, just like someone does not choose depression.
1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to have an eating disorder, and anorexia has the highest mortality rate for any psychiatric condition. People with eating disorders, but who do not have enough of the features common in anorexia or bulimia, are termed as having an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), and EDNOS make up the largest group of eating disorder sufferers. Other eating disorders include binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating. You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder by their shape and size alone, as many are of normal weight – the real pain of an eating disorder is on the inside.
Research shows that eating disorders are becoming more and more common. It is therefore particularly important that people are aware of the facts about eating disorders and what help is available to them and their loved ones. Today is the start of eating disorders awareness week and this is an opportunity to not only raise awareness, but is also a wonderful reminder that people do recover from eating disorders. At The Nutrition Coach we work with those suffering with eating disorders to improve their relationship with food and to help them to find their way out of the cycles of disordered eating. Taking the first steps to get help can be extremely difficult, but seeking help is the first step to recovery. Food plays an important part in all our lives and we are here to help people develop a balanced, happy relationship with food, so that they can live life to the full.
Find out more about how we can help you and contact us to make an appointment for a consultation at one of our London nutrition clinics.