The main types of disorders are:
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder/Overeating
- Night Eating Syndrome
Of course there are various combinations of these, but where there is a very strong connection between food and emotion it can cause difficulty and could be considered an eating disorder.Perhaps the most important aspect of dealing with an eating disorder is distancing yourself from it, the truth is you have an eating disorder that you are not the eating disorder. So often I have heard people say ‘I am an anorexic’, or ‘I am a bulimic’ or ‘I am the survivor of abuse’ or ‘I am an alcoholic’.
Why is it for other conditions you would say ‘I have a cold’, ‘I have an infection’ yet for personal problems we tend to say ‘I am….’. I have never heard anyone say ‘I am cancer’.
The most powerful and important perception of anything is our own and if you decide to say ‘I have an eating disorder’ rather than ‘I am’ you can take huge strides in dealing with this hurdle in your life. This will allow you to take charge of the eating disorder and know that your life is not defined by the eating disorder, and begin to live your life.
In some situations it can be useful to be specific you have, but sometimes it can be enough just to say ‘I have a problem with food’.
Eating disorders are compounded again by pre existing conditions such as diabetes, heart problems and low blood pressure. Eating disorders can also cause these problems as well as low vitamins & minerals, tooth loss, osteoporosis, etc. The major effect of not eating, vomiting, or over eating, is on brain chemistry because the body uses carbohydrate, proteins, and fats to make chemicals in the brain (serotonin, dopamine, melatonin) that literally keep us happy, without them we fall into depression. To suffer from an eating disorder in practical terms is to be eating (not eating) yourself into misery. The only way to reverse this unhappiness is to begin to eat regularly.
Because some medical conditions such as diabetes and glycaemia are blood sugar disorders, many individuals attempt to regulate their blood sugar using and eating disorder. This abuse will accelerate the deadly affects of diabetes such as loss of eyesight, loss of feeling in limbs leading to infection and gangrene. I know some will read this and say ‘that’s never going to happen to me’….just by saying these words, you now you know what you are up to, you now know you have a difficulty with food.
Everyone has their time
If you are reading this with a mind to change, or to help someone change your first step is to admit (or help them admit) they have a difficulty with food.
Be cautious, most people with an eating disorder know at some level they have one, but this is the crutch that keeps them going and they do not want to let go. They may not know any other way, however that does not mean they cannot learn one! And consider this: ‘why do you want them to admit, is it for you or them?’ Often tying to control or force anyone to do anything means they will either dig in their heels or retreat further into themselves. Sometimes all we can do is support them, but do not support the disorder, give them the space to come to you when they decide to change.
Of course this does not mean giving up, being powerless, or passive. In the words of Gandhi who promoted passive non violent resistance ‘I have never advocated passive anything’ meaning even passive resistance is an active approach when used correctly. There are many ways of being active there are many ways of encouraging others to help themselves. One aspect that is almost universal in psychological difficulties is that they are connected to low self value, low courage, or low self esteem. To tell someone they are looking good or that they are perfect when they don’t feel it can cause more damage. Often the best way to encourage others is to give them compliments that involve saying ‘I’ for example ‘I am glad to see you’, ‘I am happy you are here’, or ‘I am glad you called’. A person who has self image difficulties will turn most ordinary compliments (which most of us has difficulty in taking) into insults internally; they will use excuses saying ‘she’s only saying that because she’s my mother and she has to’, or ‘Dad told him to say that’, or in the case of therapists and other professionals ‘they are only saying that because they are paid to’.
It is vital that an interaction is maintained and you can build a rapport with ‘open’ non judgemental conversations. Conversations that build trust can be useful, but always be aware that you want to build a relationship with the person and not the disorder. The goal of this is to help the person see that they are not the disorder, but do need help in dealing with the disorder.
Unlike other addictions, abstinence is not an option, everyone must have a relationship with food. But like all relationships (even those with people) it can change to be a more productive, caring and happy relationship.
If you are experiencing difficulties with an eating disorder and would like to talk about the problem in a safe and non judgemental way please contact Michael Fitzgerald at the Dungarvan Counselling Centre.