Last week I published a post, my story really, of the last 5+ years struggling with disordered eating. The response has been overwhelming!
I’d been writing that piece on and off for several months and it took a long time for me to finally hit the ‘publish’ button. I think that by pressing publish I was saying to the world that I’m not perfect, or that I’m a failure, or something. In the end, I don’t know why I was so afraid – all the messages of love and encouragement have really lifted me up, and made me so glad my story is out there. Thank you so much for the love!
One thing that certainly became evident, especially through the personal messages I received, was that disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with food are worryingly common. So I’ve put together this post as a follow-up.
Do you think you have an unhealthy relationship with food? Or are you concerned about a loved one? The first step for everyone is admitting that there is something wrong. Thus, I’ve used research evidence and my own personal experience to put together the information below and pose some questions which people can answer to help identify if they may have a not-so-healthy relationship with food.
Prevalence of Eating Disorders
The term ‘Eating Disorder’ encompasses a large number of conditions including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Overeating or Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) (1) which can include any number of symptoms associated with a combination of the aforementioned conditions.
In 2012, diagnosed eating disorders affected 4% of the Australian Population (2), however it is estimated that up to 20% of women have an undiagnosed eating disorder (1).
I’m focussing on symptoms and habits associated with the weight-loss end of the eating disorder spectrum, because that was my own experience.
Habits and Symptoms
The following is a list of are symptoms, habits and questions you can ask yourself, associated with Anorexia, Bulimia and restrictive/avoidant eating disorders that may help indicate an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating:
- Loss of weight or struggles with weight fluctuations;
- Looking unhealthily thin, gaunt, drawn;
- In women, cessation of menstruation (amenorrhoea) or a disrupted cycle;
- Concerns expressed about health by loved ones and the general public.
- Do you get sick more often?
- Have you developed symptoms of any conditions that seem strange to you like psoriasis, eczema, hashimotos, IBS or other autoimmune disorders?
- Are you afraid of gaining weight?
- Do you think about trying to balance what you eat with exercise, vomiting, laxatives or other means?
- Binge eating, especially when alone.
- Do you restrict certain foods or food groups (carbs/fat/protein/etc.)?
- Do you exercise a lot, excessively?
- Pre-occupation with food – Do you think about food a lot? While you’re trying to work or do something else? From planning to buying, preparing and cooking meals, but maybe not consuming all that much?
- Your interests in a bookstore and on social media now turn to the ‘health and fitness’ and cookbook sections.
- Do you lie about what you eat? Say you’ve ‘already eaten’ when you haven’t, hide or dispose of uneaten food?
- Always trying to adapt/change recipes to make them lower in fat/sugar/calories?
- Do you weigh yourself more than once a week?
- Always trying to implement the latest new diet, health-food, weight-loss technique or fitness fad?
- Are you often hungry, even after eating?
- Do emotional states trigger you to binge eat or eat certain foods?
- Do you feel you can’t say ‘no’ to certain foods?
- You drink excessive amounts of water or tea to help you feel full.
- Do you feel alone/isolated/depressed? Or do your moods fluctuate inexplicably? Do you anger easily?
- You’re constantly tired/exhausted but don’t sleep that well.
- Obsessive ‘rituals’ around preparing and eating food – from meal times to the size of plates served, size of pieces to be chopped and cutlery to be used.
- Do you avoid social situations where there is food involved? Do you get anxious about attending social gatherings where food is involved?
- Increased isolation – do you spend more and more time alone, avoiding activities and people you previously enjoyed doing and spending time with?
- Do you mainly eat by yourself?
List compiled from (1, 3, 4) and my personal experience.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Likewise, identifying with one of the statements doesn’t mean you should suddenly be worried about an eating disorder. However, if you (or someone you know) can relate to more than 5 items then it may be an indication that something isn’t right.
Where to Start.
My own personal journey has been mostly self-driven, but in hindsight, I would definitely recommend seeking help. There are many places where you can seek help. The Butterfly National Helpline is free, 1800 334 673, and National Eating Disorder Collaboration provides an exhaustive list of organisations according to location, age and required service.
First and foremost, I found confiding my feelings in someone really helpful. While the support of family and friends is essential, I actually found it much easier to talk about it with strangers and people I didn’t know that well (doctor/naturopath/yoga teachers). Yoga and meditation are what has really helped me to gain perspective and help recovery. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as meditation and mindfulness are known to help mental illness (5). Specifically related to eating disorders, yoga has also been found to have a significant effect on patient recovery and improved eating disorder symptoms (6, 7).
For me, it was a journey that I took myself through, however, I’m sure a return to health could have happened sooner if I’d sought help from specialist services and centres, which I highly recommend. Treatment should be multi-disciplinary to address both the behaviours as well as physiological and hormonal problems. Gaining weight doesn’t automatically fix everything, for example, after over 6 months – I still have lingering physiological abnormalities which need addressing.
I hope this piece has been helpful. I’m not a psychologist or professional in this area but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or leave a comment below if you have any questions about me, my journey or just want a chat.
1. Collaboration NED. Eating Disorders Explained 2016 [Available from: http://www.nedc.com.au/eating-disorders-explained.
2. Foundation B. Paying the price: the economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia. Melbourne: Butterfly Foundation; 2012.
3. Agras WS. The Oxford handbook of eating disorders: Oxford University Press; 2010.
4. Whitney EN, Cameron-Smith D, Crowe T, Walsh A, Rady Rolfes S. Understanding nutrition: 2nd edition.; 2014.
5. Shapiro SL, Schwartz GE, Santerre C. Meditation and positive psychology. 2002.
6. McIver S, O’Halloran P, McGartland M. Yoga as a treatment for binge eating disorder: a preliminary study. Complementary therapies in medicine. 2009;17(4):196-202.
7. Carei TR, Fyfe-Johnson AL, Breuner CC, Brown MA. Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2010;46(4):346-51.