Eating disorders

What is an eating disorder?


An eating disorder is an illness which manifests itself in a variety of unhealthy eating and weight control behaviours that become obsessive, compulsive, and/or impulsive in nature. Eating Disorders almost always start out as diets, but these disorders are not about food and weight.

AmorexiaThe food serves as a stress reliever and in many cases initially the person is not aware of what they are doing. In this day and age of dieting, health and fitness, it is difficult to sometimes be sure of the difference between someone who has an eating disorder and a person who is simply weight conscious.

The main ingredient present in a person suffering from an eating disorder is the use or abuse of food to cope with, distract from, numb or control  negative feelings; whereas a weight conscious person may simply want to lose weight for a wedding, Christmas, a holiday, to fit into an outfit, or just to look and feel better. It is the psychological and emotional implications that separate the weight conscious person from the person with an eating disorder. Unfortunately some embarking on the weight loss trail start out innocently to lose a few pounds, however over a period of time a persons brain and body chemistry can be affected by the diet they have chosen and the result is that logical thinking becomes impaired, as far as food is concerned.

Consult your DoctorFirst...consult your doctor!

Eating disorders can be life-threatening and the most important thing to do is to ensure that a medical opinion is sought before embarking on any kind of diet or any kind of therapy. Your family doctor is the best person to advise you about the health of your body.

Anorexia

Anorexia Nervosa means "loss of appetite for nervous reasons".  The earliest case of anorexia was a 20 year old woman treated in 1686 by Richard Morton and the first paper written on anorexia was by Sir William Gull in 1874. Anorexia is the relentless pursuit of low body weight either by curtailing food intake or restricting particular foods thought to be fattening. This can result in emaciation and the risk of collapse or death.

Some anorexics also exercise compulsively to burn off the perceived excess of calories from the small amount they do manage to eat. The focus placed on food is an attempt to control, and get a sense of power in the person's life. It is not about simply wishing to be slim like fashion models. As the disorder takes control, brain chemistry alters, resulting in further distortions in thinking and emotional reasoning. The anorexic begins to get a "buzz" out of hunger. As the illness takes more of a hold, the sufferer becomes exhausted as their energy levels are compromised due to lack of food. Indeed this may account for the heaviness they may feel. In all cases this heaviness is mistaken for fatness, and so they engage in a constant struggle to keep losing weight, a war on food that must be maintained despite the already severe weight loss that the person has incurred. Anorexia affects the body and mind in several different ways.

Anorexia has far reaching effects on health and well being, and if left untreated can be fatal. The long term effects for women can lead to the development of infertility or a difficulty in becoming pregnant. However once the body receives proper nutrition these effects can be reduced. For both men and women there is a high risk of developing osteoporosis.

When starving the anorexic feels safe, in control, they can cope and they feel better about themselves. They are afraid of food and afraid of themselves and terrified of losing the control.

Bulimia

It was only in 1979 that bulimia nervosa was first recognised as an eating disorder. The name literally means "Nervous, ox-like hunger". This hunger is driven by an emotional need that food cannot alone fill. The sufferer feels a void or emptiness and they seek to use food to fill it. Unfortunately, as many find out, this emptiness cannot be filled by food, as it is emotional or spiritual emptiness.

Sufferers characteristically binge eat or over eat; end up feeling bloated and too full after their eating episode and then induce vomiting and/or take laxatives in a bid to prevent themselves from gaining weight. Others over-exercise in an attempt to burn unwanted calories.

As with anorexia, control and the abuse of food as a coping mechanism are also present. Bulimia usually follows dieting, and starts later in life than anorexia, in late adolescence. It may follow anorexia although most bulimics have not been anorexic. It can continue for many years if left untreated, thus many older women have the illness. The period after childbirth is another time when women are at risk.

People become bulimic because they believe that purging will help them get rid of unwanted calories before they are absorbed and stop them from gaining weight, as other weight loss attempts have resulted in failure. Bulimia is also associated with low self esteem, lack of confidence, an over-evaluation of shape and weight, and a need to control weight.

Bulimic behaviour is very addictive as, while vomiting or exercising the brain releases endorphins, chemicals which are the body's natural pain killers. The ritual confers a sense of emotional release, so what starts off as a way of controlling calories, becomes a way of getting this emotional release, and will be repeated whenever a person feels emotional stress.

As with anorexia, the symptoms (see right hand panel) can and do have a far reaching effect on mental, emotional and physical well being. In extreme cases, bulimia can cause heart failure as excessive vomiting causes potassium loss from the body. Potassium is essential to regulate the adrenal glands, the nervous system, the blood pressure and energy levels in the body. Of course the adrenal glands, the producers of adrenaline, have an important function in handling stress effectively. Other dangers include rupture of the stomach, choking, tooth enamel erosion, swollen glands and the drying up of salivary glands.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapy can help by tackling the underlying emotions and self-esteem issues, changing self-image, building self-confidence and a sense of real control around food and eating. The usual approach would be hypno-psychotherapy, with some cognitive behavioural therapy and NLP in addition.

Contact me in confidence by email or on 021 487 6072 to arrange a free introductory consultation if you would like to find out more.