Eating Disorders


Eating disorders and disordered eating patterns are serious problems that have become increasingly more common over the past 30 years. They are responsible for more loss of life than any other psychological problem.

People struggling with eating disorders place excessive value on weight and body shape. They tend to be highly critical of their bodies. This ‘overevaluation’ and ‘critical-eye’ leads them to engage in a host of thoughts, feelings and often behaviours aimed at controlling their weight and shape.

The most commonly known eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder.  It is quite common for somebody to shift between more anorexic and more bulimic symptoms; indeed, many of our clients have experienced both of these difficulties at different points in time.

Below you will find some descriptions of these conditions. Please note that these are here to provide the common characteristics of these difficulties, and is by no means an exhaustive description of the psychological and physical effects of these problems. If you recognise yourself or somebody you love in the below descriptions, and want to read more about them, we recommend the Eating Disorder Association’s website (www.b-eat.co.uk) for a wealth of up-to-date information.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

People with AN restrict their food intake such that they reach a significantly low body weight. In addition to food restriction, people with AN are terrified of gaining weight or becoming fat. Although significantly low in weight, this intense fear drives them to act in persistent ways that interfere with weight gain. They may experience their body weight or shape abnormally; despite the obviousness to those around them, they may also not recognise the severity and seriousness of their current low body weight.

A proportion of people with AN also binge and/or purge their food through methods such as self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas. For a more detailed description of bingeing and purging, please see the description below for Bulimia Nervosa.

Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

Those struggling with BN engage in recurrent episodes of binge eating. Binges consist of eating large amounts of food, usually over a short period of time. During these episodes, many describe feeling that they cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating. Many people describe feeling guilty or ashamed after bingeing.
Following these binges (although some of our clients do this following normal amounts of food, as well), those with BN purge their food in order to prevent weight gain. Common methods of purging include self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications, fasting; and excessive exercise.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Like those with BN, people with BED engage in recurrent episodes of binge eating. However, unlike those with BN, they do not try to compensate for their eating through purging.

Binges tend to be consumed quickly and consist of large amounts of food. Bingeing is often done alone because of the embarrassment by how much one is eating. Many people describe feeling disgusted, ashamed, depressed, or very guilty after bingeing.

Other Problematic Eating

As well as the more common difficulties of AN, BN and BED, there has been increased attention on variations of these difficulties. Most notably, the media has focused much on difficulties coined ‘orthorexia’ which describes an orthodox and rigid approach to eating that dominates one’s life and interferes with normal social functioning. Struggling with specific tastes, textures and smells is also common. Moreover, we are seeing more eating disorders in men. While this often does take the form of AN, BN or BED, we also see a subgroup of men who are obsessively focused on musculature, body fat percentages, and overexercise. These problems extend to difficulties we see in professional athletes struggling with eating disorders.

These descriptions aside, what is most prevalent today is what we call ‘disordered eating’. This term is meant to include the intense focus and obsession many women and men have today on their bodies and their diets. Caused by a variety of factors, this unhealthy focus leads people to feel low, guilty, ashamed, and generally unhappy.

Obesity

Obesity in not a mental illness, but it can result in significant social and psychological problems. Many people erroneously think that individuals with obesity are greedy and/or lazy. As a result, people who are obese often face prejudice or discrimination. These situations can lead to feelings of rejection, shame, and depression. It is easy to see how obesity can lead to low self-esteem, poor self-image, low self-confidence, loneliness, relationship problems, sexual problems and depression.

And while being a little bit overweight is unlikely to cause any problems, there comes a point at which too much body fat can seriously affect your health and quality of life.

For some people, the aim of treatment is to improve self-worth and acceptance of their current body size. For others, it is to reduce weight to improve quality of life. It is generally agreed that doing this involves making changes to your diet and lifestyle habits. In some cases, this may involve weight-loss surgery. At Altum, we have helped people to overcome the barriers involved in changing what can often be a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits. We provide the psychological support necessary for you to make the changes necessary to reach your goals. We also provide psychological assessments for bariatric surgery. We work closely with your dietician, GP, or other medical professionals to ensure you receive a comprehensive plan.

If you feel that you may be suffering from one of these problems, or any other mental health issue related to eating or self-image, please contact us so that we can help.

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