Eating disorders are mental health problems where someone experiences issues with their body weight and shape, and engages in behaviour which will disturb their everyday diet and attitude towards food, for example controlling the amount of food they eat.
The most common eating disorders are:
anorexia nervosa – where an individual tries to keep their body weight as low as possible (for example, not eating enough and/or exercising excessively) because of a belief that their personal problems are caused by their physical appearance
bulimia nervosa – often just called bulimia, is an unhealthy eating pattern where an individual binge eats then purges, either by vomiting or taking laxatives, in order to control and keep their body weight as low as possible.
binge eating – where an individual eats excessively and feels compelled to do so on a regular basis.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – sometimes, a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected symptoms for any of the better known eating disorders. OSFED is just as serious as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorders. Like any other eating disorder, it is not only about the way the person treats food, but about underlying thoughts and feelings.
Eating disorders are complex mental health problems that have a number of underlying causes which can include, neurochemical changes, genetics, lack of confidence or self-esteem, perfectionist personality trait, problems such as bullying, or difficulties with school work can all be triggers for the condition.
Some people attribute eating disorders to media and the increased important that is placed on wanting or needing to have a certain body shape or type. People with eating disorders may feel that they can only ever be happy, successful or worthwhile if they had a certain body shape. It is important to realise that media and pressures to be thin do not cause eating disorders, however these pressures can be triggering for someone already vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.
Psychotherapy can help look at the complicated feelings and experiences beneath an eating disorder or difficult relationship with food. Poor body image often goes hand-in-hand with disordered eating, as does a compulsive relationship with exercise. Specialist psychotherapy can help bring relief to the multi-faceted conditions of eating disorders.
Men with eating disorders
While eating disorders are often portrayed as illnesses that affect only females, large population studies show that up to a quarter of people suffering with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are male. Almost an equal number of men as women suffer with binge eating disorder, and rates of body dissatisfaction in males is rapidly approaching that of females
Male athletes have an increased vulnerability to eating disorders as well as men heavily involved in gym culture, body building and weight lifting. Psychotherapy helps tackle not just the eating disorder and body image difficulties, but also the shame and misunderstanding associated with male eating disorders.