Don’t let food control your life

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, you may find that your life revolves around food. Whether you’re obsessing about food, overeating or avoiding food altogether, controlling what you eat is seen as a way to control your life and find happiness. However, only you have the key to your own happiness. Overcoming an eating disorder involves rediscovering and accepting who you are, beyond food, eating habits, weight and body image.

First, let’s look more closely at what an eating disorder is.

Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake, whereby the individual’s physical and mental health is affected. This can have a profound impact on the quality of life of an individual. In the western world, it is not unusual for individuals to be unhappy with their body type, and it can be typical for these individuals to start analysing their food intake, limiting their calories, and worrying about what they eat. When these problems are extreme or interfere with an individual’s normal activities and quality of life, these concerns are considered to be a psychological disorder.

Individuals with an eating disorder have significant problems with eating habits, weight management practices and attitudes about weight and body shape. These eating-related attitudes and behaviours have numerous negative consequences including:

  • low self-esteem, depression, shame and guilt
  • obsession and anxiety
  • interference with normal daily activities
  • alienation from self and social withdrawal
  • physiological consequences, which are potentially life-threatening

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is the most serious eating disorder, which is characterised by dangerously low body weight. People with Anorexia refuse to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for their age and height, experience intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though they are underweight. They misunderstand the seriousness of their weight loss, provide undue influence of body weight and shape on their self-evaluation, and demonstrate disturbances in the way their body weight and shape is viewed. If Anorexia is not treated, it can often result in severe malnutrition and death.

Bulimia nervosa is not so frequently life-threatening, but seriously affects the well-being of sufferers and can have serious medical complications. This condition is characterised by binge eating and subsequent behaviours that are engaged in to compensate for the binge.

Eating disorders affect more women than men, and signs of an eating disorder are most commonly present during adolescence. The path to recovery from an eating disorder begins with the individual first admitting that they have a problem. Learned eating disorder behaviours can be unlearned especially if the individual is motivated to change and is willing to seek help. The cause of eating disorders is often related to issues in the individual’s personal life such as relationships with others (i.e., the individual may be bullied at school). Therefore, treatment needs to focus on the individual’s environment, and not just centre around food intake.

Recovery from anorexia and bulimia involves the individual learning to listen to their body, understand their feelings and self-acceptance.

Therapy is very important for individuals with an eating disorder. The psychologists at Foundation Psychology can provide support and treatment for those with eating disorders through:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – restructuring negative thoughts and behaviours
  • helping the individual keep a food diary
  • teaching the individual the benefits of adequate nutrition
  • goal setting
  • developing a reward system where the individual can reward themselves when they have done something to positively improve their diet
  • assisting the individual gain insight into their boarder personality factors that contribute to eating difficulties
  • assisting the individual increase awareness of how their lifestyle structure and relationships with others impact their disorder