Eating disorders usually have a psychological cause and are generally classed as a type of mental health problem.
They are linked to an unhealthy relationship with food (whether this is restricting food intake, overeating binges or a combination of the two) and are often an attempt to gain some control over your life - especially if you feel that other areas of your life are out of your control.
Some of the signs of an eating disorder are more obvious than others and even sufferers themselves may not realise that some of their behaviour and physical symptoms are actually due to the condition.
This is arguably the most well-known eating disorder and it’s also usually the one that is most obvious to other people.
If you have anorexia, it’s likely that you won’t recognise the problem due to the distorted view you have of your body.
Sufferers see themselves as fat and are often convinced that they are overweight when in reality you may actually be dangerously underweight.
Anorexia is linked to a fear of putting on weight, which leads to constant dieting and calorie restriction and is often accompanied by lots of exercise to burn more calories.
In the more extreme cases of anorexia, laxatives and diet pills are used to further avoid any weight gain.
When food is eaten, this often only involves very small bits of particular foods and may also form part of food rituals. For example, you may only allow yourself to eat a bite of food at certain times of the day or in specific situations.
With bulimia, there may not be as much weight loss as with anorexia and you may be a healthy weight compared to someone with anorexia.
However, it’s likely that your weight will shift up and down a lot in line with the cycle of overeating and then making yourself sick to get rid of the food and calories.
The vomiting part can lead to physical symptoms such as stomach aches, sore throats, headaches, heartburn (particularly straight away afterwards), swollen glands, water retention, sore knuckles and a smell of vomit on your hands and breath.
This is largely due to a combination of inducing vomiting and the after effects of doing so frequently.
Bulimia has a similar root cause to anorexia in that you worry about putting weight on but there is also a feeling of guilt associated with the overeating part of the cycle, which leads to the vomiting part.
Binge eating involves regularly overeating in an extreme way in short periods of time. For example, you may find yourself eating several bags of crisps or a whole packet of biscuits in one sitting.
Binge eating is similar to the overeating part of the bulimia cycle but with this eating disorder, the guilt and shame of having binged can encourage even more compulsive eating in a bid to deal with these feelings, rather than trying to bring the food back up again.
This is why you’re more likely to be overweight compared to people with different eating disorders.
General Signs of an Eating Disorder
Alongside the warning signs that characterise the main types of eating disorders, there are also some other physical and psychological red flags that you may notice about yourself.
- Isolating yourself (often to engage in the activities that characterise your eating disorder such as starving yourself, binge eating or vomiting after eating)
- Having an unnatural and obsessive interest in recipes and cooking, especially for other people
- Interacting with food but not having any interest in eating it
- Food rituals such as only eating at particular times or from certain plates
- Avoiding situations where food will be present
- Compulsive exercising
- Taking diet pills or laxatives
- Being preoccupied with your weight and checking it very frequently
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide your body
Some of the physical symptoms of eating disorders can include:
- Irregular periods or not having periods at all
- A pale complexion
- A dull look to your eyes
- Brittle hair that is prone to falling out
- Bruising easily and taking longer for bruises to heal
- Sleep problems - either sleeping too much or insomnia
- Feeling very tired
Treating Eating Disorders
You may feel as though your eating disorder is out of control but with the right help and support, they are very treatable.
Psychological therapies such as CBT can help you to change your previous eating patterns and adopt healthier ones, while hypnotherapy can be used alongside this to alter your beliefs about yourself and your eating habits to address the underlying causes of your eating disorder.