Whether it’s the one we have with our parents, our siblings, our friends, lovers or colleagues, healthy relationships are important. What’s interesting is that the majority of those reading this will agree. Relationships fall into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on the third tier of the triangle under ‘Love/Belonging’. But what about your relationship with food? And more so, your children’s relationship with it?
While we all know that sustenance is a fundamental part of our survival, a negative relationship with food (with or without other influences such as (cyber) bullying, being forced to finish every morsel on the plate, or body shaming) is highly likely to lead to have adverse effects on your children later in their life. Eating disorders manifest in people from all walks of life, irrespective of age (although usually during teen to early adult years), social standing, gender, sexual preference, race, or religion.
As a parent, one of the easiest ways to nurture a healthy relationship with food in your child is to allow them to experiment with different foods, while still maintaining a healthy balance on their plate. Also, give them the opportunity to help in the kitchen when you are preparing meals. That way they can enjoy the sensory experience that cooking can be. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to force your child to eat long after they’ve said they’re full or berate them for being overweight. This kind of behaviour is fertile ground in which an eating disorder will begin to thrive.
Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:
- Serious health problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviour
- Problems with growth and development
- Social and relationship problems
- Substance use disorders
- Work and school issues
If you notice a family member or friend who seems to show signs of an eating disorder, consider talking to that person about your concern for his or her well-being. Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, reaching out with compassion may encourage the person to seek treatment.
Click here for different types of eating disorders and how they present in sufferers.
Different Types of Eating Disorders
Most of you will, at the very least, have heard of Anorexia Nervosa, or Bulimia Nervosa. While these are the most commonly known, others exist too. Sadly, the causes most often cited by those suffering with eating disorders that result in excessive weight loss are fear of being fat, their partner expecting them to maintain a certain look, or ridicule about their general appearance.
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes, such as:
- Genetics and biology. Certain people may have genes that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Biological factors, such as changes in brain chemicals, may play a role in eating disorders.
- Psychological and emotional health. People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behaviour and troubled relationships.
Certain factors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:
- Family history. Eating disorders are significantly more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who’ve had an eating disorder.
- Other mental health disorders. People with an eating disorder often have a history of an anxiety disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Dieting and starvation. Dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Starvation affects the brain and influences mood changes, rigidity in thinking, anxiety and reduction in appetite. There is strong evidence that many of the symptoms of an eating disorder are actually symptoms of starvation. Starvation and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which may perpetuate restrictive eating behaviours and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits.
- Stress. Whether it’s heading off to college, moving, landing a new job, or a family or relationship issue, change can bring stress, which may increase your risk of an eating disorder.
The other well-known eating disorder is obesity. According to this article published by BHF UK, thirty-one thousand people die in the UK each year from cardiac and circulatory complications resulting from them being overweight. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem as many people found comfort in not-always-healthy foods while being isolated.
An uncommon one is Orthorexia. Like other eating disorders, this one also creeps up on one. Patients suffering from this illness become obsessed with everything they eat, counting calories, exercising excessively, and studying product labels with earnest intent. While they may seem to be eating ‘healthier’, their obsession with food may trigger other mental and psychological issues.
Regardless of the type of disorder you, or someone you care about is dealing with, education about maintaining a healthy relationship with food and working with an eating disorder counsellor, you can begin your road to recovery.
Please note, we do not diagnose eating disorders.
Do’s and Don’tsIf you know or suspect someone you care about may be suffering with an eating disorder, we advise the following when broaching the subject with them.
|Educate yourself before initiating a conversation||Judge, berate, or shame|
|Be gentle, considerate, and supportive||Name a disorder, or discuss the abuse of certain foods|
|State your feelings with ‘I’ statements||Mention other illnesses related to eating disorders|
|Suggest counselling with an eating disorder trained professional||Pressure them to make changes without help; this could lead to further damage|
Many primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities have programmes that screen learners for potential eating disorders. Early detection facilitated by these events opens doors to treatment for the disorders, allowing the students to address their illness without fear of judgment in a safe, confidential environment. Trained eating disorder counsellors often form part of the recovery regimen. These professionals delve deeper into the patient’s background, often finding and rooting out the underlying cause that led to the disorder in the first place.
The screenings also serve the purpose of creating awareness among the entire student body and faculty about different eating disorders, and how to get help for themselves, or someone they know who may be suffering with one. Awareness removes the stigma associated with eating disorders, but also teaches those having to assist someone recovering from one how to do it with compassion and empathy.
Attending therapy sessions with a trained eating disorder counsellor will assist with healing and recovery. Depending on the eating disorder itself, there are various types of treatment available. For example, patients suffering from binge eating, anorexia, or bulimia may find their breakthrough via Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), person centered approach or psychotherapy under the safe guidance of a professional therapist. Others may benefit through group counselling; sometimes hearing the struggles and successes of others on the same path may be the key to the next step of healing. Family therapy sessions equip not only the patient, but those supporting them, on how to face and eventually overcome the difficulties that an eating disorder brings. Another possible treatment is medication, but this should only be an option when combined with a form of talk therapy with a trained eating disorder counsellor or mental health professional.
As with many potentially terminal illnesses, early detection saves lives. Most eating disorders can be prevented if help is sought timeously, but often those suffering with one don’t realise they are unwell until it’s too late; very few patients that have eating disorders make a conscious decision to develop one. If you find yourself in need of assistance, or know someone who does, seek support. Bristol Counselling and Psychotherapy has trained eating disorder counsellors ready to help. Get in touch today to discuss booking an initial assessment session.
The initial consultation: £60