Every day, we are surrounded by different messages from different sources that impact the way we feel about the way we look. For some, poor body image is a sign of a serious problem: an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated illnesses that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth, and self-esteem.
What are eating disorders?
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. The signs of an eating disorder often start before a person looks unwell, so weight should never be the only consideration.
Who does it affect?
Eating disorders can affect anyone, but some people may be at higher risk. People who experience lower self-esteem or poor body image, perfectionism, or difficulties dealing with stress may be more likely to experience an eating disorder. A lack of positive social supports and other important connections may also play a big part. In some cases, eating disorders can go along with other mental illnesses. Our beliefs around body image are also important. While the media may often portray thinness as an ideal body type, this alone doesn’t cause an eating disorder. How we think about those messages and apply them to our lives is what affects our selfesteem and self-worth.
What can I do about it?
You may have a lot of difficult feelings around finding help—it isn’t always an easy step to take. Many people who experience an eating disorder are scared to go into treatment because they may believe that they will have to gain weight. Many also feel a lot of shame or guilt around their illness, so the thought of talking about very personal experiences can seem overwhelming. Some people find comfort in their eating behaviours and are scared to find new ways to cope. Restricting food, bingeing, and purging can lead to serious health problems, but eating disorders are treatable and you can recover. A good support team can help you through recovery and teach important skills that last a lifetime.
Treatment for an eating disorder usually involves several different health professionals. Some people may need to spend time in hospital to treat physical health problems. Counselling and support Counselling helps people work through problems and develop skills to manage problems in the future. There are different types of counselling, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, and interpersonal therapy. The entire family may take part in counselling, particularly when a young person experiences an eating disorder.
It can be very helpful to connect with support groups. They’re an opportunity to share experiences and recovery strategies, find support, and connect with people who understand what you’re experiencing. There may also be support groups for family and friends affected by a loved one’s eating disorder. There are many self-help strategies to try at home. Skills like problem-solving, stress management, and relaxation techniques can help everyone cope with challenges or problems in a healthy way. You’ll find many different skills like these in counselling, but you can practice them on your own, too. And it’s always important to spend time on activities you enjoy and connect with loved ones. A dietitian or nutritionist can teach eating strategies and eating habits that support your recovery goals. This is also called ‘nutritional counselling.’ Medication While there are no medications specifically for eating disorders, medication may help with the mood problems that often go along with an eating disorder. Medical care Eating disorders can cause physical health problems, so you may need regular medical care and check-ups.
How can I help a loved one?
Supporting a loved one who experiences an eating disorder can be very challenging. Many people feel upset or even frightened by their loved one’s beliefs, behaviours, or state of wellbeing. An approach that focuses on support and understanding rather than control is best.
Here are some tips to help you support a loved one:
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