September 5th, 2023
From cosy breakfasts with your family, lunch break chats with colleagues and hearty dinners shared with friends, food plays a significant role in our everyday life. However, imagine if this vital source of nourishment and joy turns into a battlefield. When your relationship with food becomes complicated, it can profoundly affect your health, relationships, and overall quality of life. This is the harsh reality for those grappling with eating disorders, and they can make every day a serious struggle. Fortunately, eating disorder rehab can provide a lifeline for those fighting this battle.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is more than just an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s a serious mental health condition that impacts a person’s eating behaviours and their feelings and thoughts about food, weight, image and self-worth. Eating disorders are classified as an addiction as they involve compulsive behaviour despite negative effects. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background, and they come with severe physical and emotional consequences.
Common types of eating disorders
Understanding the different types of eating disorders can be a starting point to identifying the issue, whether it’s for you or a loved one. Here, we will delve into the primary types of eating disorders, their symptoms and potential consequences.
Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is often characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. People with this disorder may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.
Signs and symptoms of anorexia can include:
- Extreme dieting
- Refusal to eat
- Excessive exercise
- A preoccupation with body size and shape
- Rapid weight loss
- Organ failure
Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia, involves episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours like forced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise to purge the food from the system. The guilt and shame after bingeing often lead to these actions in an attempt to prevent weight gain.
Eating disorder signs of bulimia can include:
- Frequent changes in weight
- Damaged teeth and gums from frequent vomiting
- Secrecy around eating
Binge eating disorder
Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder doesn’t involve compensatory behaviours. People with this disorder often eat large amounts of food in a short period, accompanied by feelings of lack of control, guilt and embarrassment.
Binge eating disorder symptoms can include:
- Eating when not hungry or beyond feeling full
- Eating alone due to embarrassment
- Feeling distressed about binge eating
- Obesity and its related health issues
Less well-known types of eating disorders
There are also various less well-known types of eating disorders which cause immense suffering, including:
Avoidant/Restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
People with ARFID avoid or restrict their food intake, but unlike those with anorexia, they don’t fear gaining weight or have a distorted body image. ARFID can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
Rumination disorder involves regularly regurgitating food after eating. The person may re-chew the food, re-swallow it or spit it out. This condition can also lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies if not addressed.
Pica involves eating non-food substances like ice, dirt, soap or hair for at least one month. It can lead to a range of physical problems, such as dental damage, infections and nutritional deficiencies.
Physical health problems caused by eating disorders
The physical health consequences of eating disorders can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. These conditions can disrupt almost every system in the body, leading to problems like:
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Bone weakness
- Organ failure
Understanding the full scope of these health complications underscores the importance of seeking help for an eating disorder as soon as possible.
Mental health issues linked to eating disorders
The toll of eating disorders isn’t solely physical. These disorders often coexist with other mental health conditions. For example, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are commonly seen in individuals with eating disorders. Additionally, the persistent worry and distress related to food, weight and body image can significantly impact your quality of life, leading to isolation, academic or work difficulties and overall emotional distress.
What causes eating disorders?
The causes of eating disorders vary from person to person but usually include a combination of:
Biological factors play a crucial role in the development of eating disorders. Research suggests that these conditions may be linked to irregularities in certain brain circuits that regulate food intake, hunger and digestion, while hormonal imbalances may also contribute to their onset.
Genetics can also significantly influence the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, so if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has an eating disorder, the risk increases. Some research also indicates that certain unidentified gene mutations may make certain people more prone to eating disorders.
Psychological factors are another critical component in the onset of eating disorders. These may include personality traits, mental health conditions and emotional health.
Eating disorders commonly coexist with other mental health disorders. For example:
- A person with depression may use food as a form of self-medication, leading to disorders like binge eating.
- Those with anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety, may restrict food intake or use purging behaviours to cope with their symptoms.
- Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may develop rigid rituals around food, leading to restrictive or compulsive eating behaviours.
Societal pressures and cultural norms around body image can significantly contribute to the development of eating disorders. In societies where thinness is equated with beauty, success, and worth, people may feel immense pressure to conform to unrealistic and unhealthy body ideals. This can lead to unhealthy dieting behaviours, excessive exercise and other harmful behaviours associated with eating disorders.
Bullying, teasing about weight and weight discrimination can also contribute to the onset of eating disorders. Experiencing such events, particularly during vulnerable stages such as adolescence, can lead to negative body image and disordered eating behaviours.
Significant life changes or stressful events, such as moving, school pressures or the loss of a loved one, can also trigger an eating disorder in predisposed individuals.
Eating disorder treatment
Eating disorder treatment does not usually require detox but often involves a combination of medical, nutritional and therapeutic support.
This combination is best provided through inpatient eating disorder rehab, such as at Oasis Runcorn. This is when you stay as a resident in the recovery facility and receive 24/7 care and support in a structured environment. The comprehensive care includes medical monitoring, therapeutic sessions and nutritional guidance, all of which are crucial for eating disorder recovery.
Oasis Runcorn’s eating disorder rehab programmes involve:
Therapy is a core component of eating disorder rehab. It helps to identify and challenge the harmful thought patterns related to food, weight and body image. The most common rehab therapies used for eating disorder treatment include:
- Dialectical behaviour therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Family therapy
This involves a registered dietitian providing an individualised meal plan, nutritional education and strategies to promote healthy eating behaviours. This aspect of rehab is essential for helping you rebuild a positive relationship with food and improving physical health.
Group therapy and peer support…
Group therapy sessions offer a platform for sharing experiences, challenges and victories during eating disorder recovery. Knowing that you are not alone in your struggle can be empowering and comforting, particularly in difficult moments that arise in rehab treatment.
These include yoga, art therapy and music therapy, and can help reduce stress, improve self-esteem and enhance overall well-being. All of these are crucial in effective and lasting eating disorder recovery.
Eating disorder relapse prevention
Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey that can have its share of obstacles. However, remember that any setbacks or relapses are stepping stones towards your progress, not signs of failure. Some tips for avoiding relapse include:
Consistent therapy through aftercare…
Maintaining regular therapy sessions is essential for solidifying the new, healthy behaviours learned during eating disorder treatment.
Managing stress effectively…
Stress is often a trigger for eating disorder relapse, so it’s crucial to cultivate effective stress management techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing or engaging in hobbies that you enjoy.
Regular health check-ups…
Staying connected with your healthcare team allows for early detection of potential complications or eating disorder relapse signs and ensures that your physical and mental health stays on track.
Building a strong support network…
This includes supportive friends, family, mentors, or support groups who understand your journey and can offer emotional and practical support when needed.
Practising self-care and self-compassion…
This involves taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being and treating yourself with kindness, especially during challenging times in eating disorder recovery.
Get started with eating disorder rehab
Taking the first step towards recovery can feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone in this journey. Oasis Runcorn is here to guide and support you every step of the way. Our compassionate team will work with you to address your unique needs and promote long-lasting eating disorder recovery. Contact us today to begin eating disorder rehab and start building a happier, healthier future.