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EATING DISORDERS – WHAT ARE THEY ABOUT?

Eating disorders are not always easy to identify. The line between problematic and normal eating is vague. Problems related to eating and our bodies may not always meet the medical criteria for an eating disorder, but they can limit life considerably and cause suffering.

Roughly speaking, there is a problem when eating, food, and your body become overly important in your life. If all you can think about are calories and consumption, your hobbies, friendships, and other social relationships will be less important. The risk is that your whole life will revolve around eating or consuming food.

EATING DISORDERS AFFECT MANY

Most people with an eating disorder are young, aged between 15 and 24, but eating disorders can occur at any age. Eating disorders are part of the lives of one in ten girls in adolescence, but the number of boys and men affected is also on the rise. Around 10% of people with an eating disorder are boys or men.

THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS

Often, eating-related problems are manifested in various activities related to eating and body control, such as:

  • a strict diet
  • compulsive exercise
  • an extreme avoidance of everything unhealthy

Eating disorders are often divided into three categories based on the different symptoms:

  1. In anorexia, weight loss is significant and self-inflicted. The most common ways to lose weight are controlling one’s eating, excessive exercise, and sometimes vomiting. The disorder can lead to severe malnutrition.
  2. In bulimia, a person often feels a strong urge to binge eat and eats large amounts of food at a time. The person then tries to prevent weight gain by vomiting and often fasting. The disorder can lead to severe malnutrition.
  3. Binge eating disorder (BED)involves repeated binge eating episodes, during which a person eats large amounts of food in a short period when alone. People with BED do not try to get rid of the food they have eaten by measures such as vomiting.

Orthorexia, a compulsive need to watch what you eat and eat healthily, is also close to an eating disorder with a formal diagnosis and can lead to an eating disorder in the longer term. People with orthorexia often suffer from nutrient deficiencies due to an overly restrictive diet. In orthorexia, dietary control is often combined with compulsive exercise, and the health consequences can be significant.

Eating-related problems often include features from more than one category. A common feature of different eating disorders is hiding symptoms from other people and experiencing feelings of guilt and shame about one’s behaviour. Tight schedules and inflexible, self-imposed rules, as well as the experience of losing control or fear of losing control, are also often associated with eating disorders.

MANY FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN EATING DISORDER

Eating disorders are caused by a combination of many factors. Factors related to society, family, relationships, biology and adolescent development predispose a person to the development of an eating disorder.

1. ENVIRONMENTAL PREDISPOSING FACTORS

Eating disorders are specific to Western culture, where they are associated with an appearance-centred mindset. Thinness is associated with definitions such as beautiful, successful, efficient, healthy, and happy.

2. SELF-ESTEEM PROBLEMS

Another factor predisposing a person to eating disorders are self-esteem problems. Controlling one’s eating can be an attempt to control one’s life in situations where many things feel uncertain. In such a situation, deviating from self-created, eating-related rules often causes intense feelings of anxiety and self-loathing.

3.GENETICS

The development of an eating disorder can also be influenced by genetics, but this does not determine who will be affected. If a parent has an eating disorder, their child is at increased risk of developing a disorder.

4. TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES

Eating disorders can also be triggered by traumatic experiencessuch as losses in one’s family or other relationships, being involved in an accident, or being a victim of violence.

5. PERSONALITY FACTORS

Personality factors such as self-criticism, perfectionism, and emotional sensitivity also play a role in why one person is affected and another is not.

6. CHANGES INCREASE THE RISK OF DISEASE

Often, the onset of an eating disorder is associated with life changes. This is why the risk of developing the disorder during puberty and adolescence is high. Stress and psychological pressure caused by life events can also trigger an eating disorder.

Big changes in a student’s life include:

  • starting studies in a new place of study
  • moving from your childhood home into a home of your own
  • possibly moving to a new town

Making new social connections and finding your identity and place in the student community are challenges that are not always obvious or easy.

FINDING HELP FOR AN EATING DISORDER – WHEN, WHERE AND WHY?

Focusing on weight loss, weight, and your body is harmful and predisposes you to eating disorders when it takes up space from other aspects of your life. If your weight and your efforts to control it are dominating your life and activities, you should seek help.

HEALING REQUIRES PROFESSIONAL HELP

When you suspect you have an eating disorder, or that there is generally something wrong with your relationship with food, the first step to getting help is to make an appointment with a doctor. You can make an appointment at a facility like a student health centre or a municipal health centre.

Your doctor will be able to assess your physical condition and need for treatment. It is also important to get help with the psychological issues related to the eating disorder. Your doctor can guide you on this.

Focusing on one’s eating, exercising, and body is a way to avoid feeling unwell mentally. It is important to treat both the physical and psychological aspects of an eating disorder. The treatments will support each other and give you the best possible odds for recovery. Recovery is often a lengthy process and may require visits to the doctor for years and years, as well as psychotherapy. But it’s good to remember that everyone has a chance to get better. The starting point is your own genuine desire to make a change and seek help.