Eating Disorders

Not Only About Food

Eating disorder is a growing mental health condition that is treatable and can be recovered from. The media plays a major role in promoting well-being and healthy eating whilst, vilifying those who are of a different shape or size. Diet promotion, latest fads, image projection and social media play a part in this condition.

It is a complex condition, very personal and varying in each persons reality of the need for food and can be difficult to pinpoint. Sharing your concerns with someone who may show common signs of this disorder will make a significant difference in their well being.

With thanks to Jake Ryan – pexels

What is it exactly?

Whilst on the surface it may appear to be about the type of food, body image, weight management, it is usually more complex than that as it is deeply associated with other mental health conditions. In many cases it could be about , low self esteem, emotional stress, anxiety and also can be viewed as self harm.

There are significant articles on the web – ( symptoms, diagnosis, treatment) and wonderful charities and organizations that are here to help those suffering with this condition. Our purpose is to help those who are suffering by exposing some of the issues related to the underlying conditions and how you can make a difference to those who display some of these symptoms.

Eating is part of our way of life and existence and could be categorized into healthy and unhealthy eating stages. It is an area of personal preferences, tastes, smells, flavours, recipes and presentations to name a few aspects. There are 4 basic eating stages that we want to focus on here in this page. They are (healthy) Energize, Enjoy, ( Unhealthy) Munch and Scoff ( not official scientific categories but easily identifiable)

“being able to spot some of the signs of these disorders and help those who suffer from them, to get help and intervention as early as possible for them to achieve full recovery, and to live a fruitful, healthy, productive life.”

The Big Four

It would be remiss of us to not consider the impact of cultural considerations, tastes, perceptions, historical or heritage as we outline the Big Four stages below.

Energize – This eating stage is all about energy replenishment, nutrition, and nourishment that the body needs to sustain a healthy lifestyle and well-being. Ideally these foods should make up the largest portion of our daily intake. Natural foods, vegetables, animal and plant proteins, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. Avoid highly processed foods. These will keep up our energy levels without adding sugar.

Enjoy – Aha we all need to enjoy our food and in this category its ok to have some “fun” foods that are a small percentage of our diet. This category does not provide real benefit but are nice to have occasionally. Cakes, Biscuits, Sweets, Potato Crisps, Chips, Chocolates and Ice cream. They need more monitoring as to the quantity ingested and each morsel should be savored and enjoyed. If they are being used as fillers for meals then apply caution here as their value is marginal in nutrition and high in sugars. More of desert than a food.

Munch – At some stage we have all watched a movie or TV series that gets us really engaged and find ourselves digging into the Potato Crisps, popcorn, peanuts etc almost automatically as we cope with the intrigue, thrilling or action of the program or movie. This is munching – no thought is given to what we devour at this point as we feed ourselves with no awareness, purpose of enjoyment. No real savoring of the taste, smell, texture just consuming unconsciously. Stop, Think, Breathe become aware of yourself and your actions. Make a point of minimizing this type of valueless eating.

Scoff – aka “to eat Voraciously” – its the eat whatever I can see or get my hands on and it is not as far away from us all as one might think. It is the time in the day – aka – ” the mid afternoon trough” when we have a craving for food, with no meal prepared and we just unconsciously consume what we have access to. However the shame and guilt quickly appear and we think – hmm I should not have had all that food, it is almost Lunch time or Dinner time- note it is mostly done in our private worlds. Caution – take action here and apply self control, be aware of what you doing, eating and thinking as you approach this time period.

With thanks to Spencer Davis – Unsplash

The Mental Health Aspect

The food we eat and the supplements we take, all have an impact on how we feel and see ourselves and our energy levels. Mental health conditions like chronic anxiety, depression, stress, low self esteem, cognitive functions and a number of other conditions can significantly be aggravated by fluctuating levels of blood sugars.

The brain is the Energy manager and requires at least one third of our energy levels for cell health maintenance of our bodies. Our brains require a constant source of energy and as such does not dispense energy unnecessarily. It assigns energy to our neurons, brain cells, sending and receiving signals, movement, thinking etc. So what we ingest as our energy source has a direct effect on our mental health well-being.

We are wonderful and unique individuals and should take a holistic view of our well-being, our Mental Health is key to achieving all we can be and food, exercise and awareness of who we are, all play their part in that well being we desire. Our Mental Health has a number of aspects to consider, it is impacted by our unique blend of Biological, Sociological and Psychological factors and are discussed in more detail in our BIOPSYCHOSOCIAL model.

Possible causation could be :

  • Conflict at home – Physical, verbal or sexual abuse, Neglect, Financial,
  • Persisting criticism from others about eating habits, body shape, or weight,
  • Family history of obesity, dieting, eating disorders,
  • Pressure to be slim due to occupation, Gymnastics,Jockey Athlete, Model etc,
  • Inflexible thinking, negative or all or nothing thinking, limiting beliefs,
  • A strong need to be in control, perfectionism,
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and needs, being a people pleaser, conflict avoidance,

“Our Mental Health has a number of aspects to consider, it is impacted by our unique blend of Biological, Sociological and Psychological factors.”

The Main Disorders

The Eating Disorders that have received much attention are Anorexia, Bulimia and BED – Binge Eating disorder and there are exceptionally helpful websites, Charities, Helplines and support groups for these significantly serious conditions. We will touch on them briefly and provide some contacts for further reading, support or contact.

Our aim here is to identify them and also focus on 2 other eating disorders, ARFID and OSFED. By doing so we trust that you will be able to spot some of the signs of these disorders and help those who suffer from them to get help and intervention as early as possible for them to achieve full recovery, and to live a fruitful, healthy and productive life.

ARFIDAvoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – where certain foods are avoided due to Tastes, Smells, Textures, Appearance, Temperature or Colour, resulting in an overall restricted intake of food.

OSFEDOther Specified Feeding Eating Disorder – where symptoms may not match any of the criteria of the other specific disorders and could be a combination of the above in varying degrees. Making it much harder to recognize.

Some Symptoms

We have provided some of the more common symptoms and signs to assist you in helping to identify and help someone or yourself who may be experiencing these disorders. They are by no means finite merely to be used as a quick reference guide.

Please take note this is not intended to Stigmatize, Label or Discriminate against any person or persons who may display some of the below symptoms and signs. Early identification can help them recover. You can make a difference to someones life by being aware of the subtle changes that are taking place in them.

Anorexia – Life Threatening – more than 15% weight loss below average, Starvation, Distorted body image. Signs may include – Brittle Bones, Dry Skin and Hair, Fainting, Fatigue, Severe Dehydration, Unable to focus.

Bulimia – Episodes of eating very large amounts of food followed by purging ( induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, Excess exercising, Fasting long terms) could be a follow on from Anorexia. Signs may include – repeated episodes of eating very large amounts of food, Throat irritation, Hoarseness, Disappearance after meals to the toilets, Appetite suppressants, Sleeplessness, Brittle hair and nails, Discoloured teeth.

BED – Binge Eating Disorder – Eating rapidly, eating until uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food even when not hungry, eating alone to avoid being seen as out of control of their food intake. Signs may include – Tiredness, Fatigue, Weight Gain, Anxiety , Stress, Withdrawn Socially, Poor Skin condition, Mood Swings, Irritability, Obesity, Sleep Apnoea.

ARFID – ( as previously listed) – Signs may include – Eating a range of food but smaller portions, Very slow eating, Picky, Only specific foods, Missing meals, Anxious at mealtimes, Weight loss, Anaemic, Feeling full after a few mouthfuls.

OSFED – ( as previously listed) – Signs may include – Low self confidence, Low self esteem, Preoccupation with food, Being Secretive around food, Mood Swings, Withdrawn, Poor Body Image, Fatigue.

With thanks to Ingo Joseph – Pexels

Approaching Someone

The fact that you are reading this section is fantastic in that you want to be aware and help others. Well done for being persistent!

Observing the above signs and symptoms is not intended to make you a food detective or for you to be hyper vigilant when enjoying your meals with family, friends, colleagues and being socially active. They are intended to raise your level of awareness.

Approaching someone could be an awkward or difficult experience but it does not have to be so here are a few tips / guidelines to consider. Find the ones that best suit you and the situation soon you will develop your own style and success in helping others help themselves.

“the fact that you are showing you care about them by talking about the issue will be a relief for them to know someone cares.”

It would helpful to you to learn more about Eating disorders other than what we have presented here. By using the MHFA ALGEE system as a baseline, we have adapted its use for this article.

Approaching someone – Try to pick a time and place where it is bit more private and comfortable. Avoid approaching them during mealtimes or around food as that could lead to distressing them and expressing unwanted help. You may feel nervous about approaching someone regarding a very personal issue of eating, that would be quite normal. It should not impede you from talking to them about it. Often the fact that you are showing you care about them by talking about the issue will be a relief for them to know someone cares. It will provide an opportunity for them to express their difficulties and what they are experiencing.

Once they are ready use open ended questions that will not give you a Yes or No answer. Typically : I have noticed you have been a bit fatigued lately / I have noticed that you are rather selective in the food you eat tell me more about that /

Listening – We have 2 ears and 1 mouth to remind us of the importance of being a Non Judgmental listener. Avoid giving your perspective, bias or advice at this point, all they want ids for someone to listen. Let them talk encourage them to tell you more. Silence at time could be scary but resist the urge to fill the gap. Allow them and your self time to process things.

Communicate in an empathetic way, discuss your concerns with them in an open an honest, transparent manner, using I statements – I am worried about you / I have noticed that you / I am here for you tell me about it. Be mindful of your own feelings when they open up and divulge things that may contrary to your beliefs or perspectives. Remember you are not there to solve their problems but to be a listener. They may deny there is a problem or even become a little aggressive. Stay calm the person my just need time to absorb your comments and concerns. Don’t give up.

Give Support – providing support is important at this stage however do not make any promises you are not able to fulfill. Reassure the person of your concern for them and that you are proud of them talking about their issue. It is not being patronizing in any way just giving them hope that they are not stuck with the issue on their own. Be patient with them they are not likely just to accept any assistance for fear of losing control of their lives.

Ask them if they have sought help before or have visited their local GP, as how do they want you to help them and support them. Reassure them of your care and concern for their health and well-being.

Encourage them – to seek professional help even offer to assist them in finding that help. As we stated before diagnosis could take time due to the complexity of the condition being accurately diagnosed. Your support would be invaluable to them in this period of unknown.

Support and Resources

Eating disorders are often long term problems and you would do well to get advice from organisations specializing in eating disorders.

Get In Touch

If you have found this article of benefit then let us know or if you need more information or assistance then please contact us.