What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are not about food. They are mental illnesses and can be a way of coping with feelings or situations that are making you unhappy, angry, depressed, anxious or worried.
Contrary to common misconceptions, the initial goal of sufferers is usually not to lose weight or change body shape, but to process and manage difficult emotions, and to do this they develop inappropriate neurological pathways in the brain, which results in unhealthy eating habits.
Who gets eating disorders?
Anyone can be susceptible to developing in an eating disorder, boys, men, women and teenage girls. A study by the UK’s leading eating disorder charity BEAT revealed that 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
New research indicates that people who go on to have an eating disorder usually have difficulty putting their emotions into words. They often find difficult emotional situations and relationships quite overwhelming and become very anxious.
When we’re in this anxious state our body’s normal brain reactions that rationalise that we’ve eaten enough or too little shut down, as adrenalin surges through our body and we go into fight or flight mode. This is where our emotions or stress, start to be expressed through our body as eating disorders.
Common eating disorders
Scientists have identified three main types of eating disorder, and these are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a catch-all category called EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified.
- Anorexia is where people go to lengths to keep their weight abnormally low, 15 per cent below the expected weight. Another sign of the disease is when a person has missed three menstrual cycles. They often restrict how much they eat, or some sufferers binge then vomit and use laxatives. An anorexic becomes obsessed about their weight and shape and episodes can last an average of six years.
- Bulimia is often characterised by being able to maintain a normal weight but with frequent bouts of binge eating, followed by extreme efforts to purge yourself, such as making yourself vomit, misuse of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercising and extreme dieting or fasting, along with obsessive behaviour around weight and shape.
- EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) make up 80 per cent of eating disorders and include binge eating disorder (BED), which covers uncontrollable episodes of binge eating without purging. Usually over-concern with weight and shape is present but generally none of the symptoms reach the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia.
Orthorexia the new eating condition
There is a new eating condition known as orthorexia, and although not yet officially recognised in the medical world, more doctors are taking it seriously. The trend of so-called ‘clean eating’ has in part be blamed for this, as celebrities champion restrictive diets. This is someone who takes healthy eating to the extreme. It often starts with a genuine desire to be healthier with a focus on quality, rather than quantity of food. “The person may want to lose a little weight, but the main goal is ensuring the food is ‘clean’, that is, free of additives and preservatives, that the food is ‘natural’, often needing to be organic and unprocessed. Further requirements might be that all food is dairy free, sugar free, gluten free and/or free of all animal products,” explains Stephanie Moore, Serena House's Clinical Nutritional Therapist. What sets out as healthy eating can quickly escalate into unhealthy obsession, where whole food groups are left out. Signs of orthorexia include:
- Hours spent thinking about and researching the nutritional properties of food, planning and preparing meals
- Putting themselves on highly restrictive diets, and sticking to their own rules
- Sometimes foods are left out unless they are the right colour or texture
- Excessive exercise can also be a feature
The dangers of eating disorders
People afflicted by eating disorders can end up with a deficiency in nutrients, vitamins and minerals resulting in malnourishment, as well as mental anguish with mood swings, a lack of energy and low self-esteem. Anorexia is the most dangerous condition, which can result in death if the sufferer ends up literally starving themselves, or dying from related complications such as liver failure or pneumonia because of a depleted immune system.
With any eating disorder, there can be long-term implications for health, such as a loss of bone density resulting in early onset of osteoporosis, along with poor teeth and infertility. These physical issues of course come on top of mental health problems, such as chronic anxiety and depression, which can lead to wider problems in your life within education, work and relationships.
Treatment for eating disorders
Sadly, by the nature of eating disorders, the person suffering from them often becomes adept at hiding that they have a problem, even from close members of their family or a partner. This means that it often takes someone who themselves has had an eating disorder to see what is going on.
When you come into Serena House, you will be met by an integrated team of experts and support staff. We understand that patients with eating disorders often have difficulty making sense of their emotional world and as a result experience anxiety through their body.
We understand the complexities of eating disorders, and know that everyone is an individual. Through trust, our team can begin to help you break old patterns of negative thinking and return to healthy eating patterns.
Treatments at Serena House for Eating Disorders.
Treatment may include medical monitoring, individual or group therapy, nutritional counselling and eating disorder education.
Our nutritionist and chef will ensure your body is getting all the nourishment it needs, while dedicated therapists and doctors help find the best psychological treatment so you can get to the cause of the problem.
As well as being offered follow-up therapy sessions, part of your aftercare package will include access to experts who can help with any of the side-effects of your condition, such as assessing and treating any damage to bone density, a dermatologist can advise with skin problems, while a gynaecologist can give you a full check when it comes to fertility.
With help from our dedicated team you’ll be well on your way to returning to a happy and healthy way of life.
Serena House is a private eating disorders clinic in the heart of London
Talk to one of our counsellors on 020 3582 4288.