I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”
— Louis CK, comedian, writer, actor, director
Food sustains us. Food also provides enjoyment, gets people to share an experience together and gives a rich variety of new flavors to discover and try. The risk of any good thing, however, is when it becomes more than fuel, more than moderated pleasure and crosses over into the dangerous territory of addiction.
Food, which should provide us with energy and increased cognitive function, becomes a detriment to someone with an eating disorder — through overindulgence (or the opposite) and many other forms of unhealthy interaction. The sad truth is that out of the nearly 24 million people who suffer from some type of eating disorder, only 10 percent of those people seek and receive treatment.
Eating Disorders: Types and Definitions
The three major types of eating disorder — anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating — each carry their own distinct set of symptoms and problems.
The eating disorder bulimia is defined as frequent expressions of excessive eating followed by intense feelings of guilt and embarrassment, at which point the person suffering from bulimia tries to prevent weight gain through self-induced vomiting and/or obsessive exercise (also known as binging and purging).
Characteristic signs and symptoms of bulimia include:
- Periods of overeating
- Chronic gastric reflux
- Constant fluctuations in weight
- Obsessive attention to external appearance
- Fixation with caloric intake
- Eating until the point of feeling sick
- Dental erosion from vomiting
- Feelings of shame and guilt
- Poor self esteem and depression
Bulimia is a vicious cycle. You seek fulfillment and pleasure from food, overdo it, and take extreme measures to try to offset the overeating, but those measures bring their own health complications, leaving you feel even worse than before. Then it starts over again from the beginning.
This doesn’t have to be your life. You can overcome bulimia, just as many other have done before you, with the help of a trained mental health professional. Austin eating disorder therapists are here to help.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where people implement harmful techniques in order to achieve a perceived ideal body shape. Many times, this is manifested by extreme restriction of food intake, self-imposed starvation and obsessive exercise. People suffering from anorexia nervosa risk death, if the eating disorder goes untreated.
Characteristic signs and symptoms of anorexia include:
- Obsession with body image
- Obsessing over calories and fat content in food
- Crippling fear of weight gain
- Dramatic loss of weight
- Compulsive exercising
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Swollen joints
- False perception of physical appearance
- Chronic lethargy
- Mood swings
- For women, an absence of menses
- Heart disease
Anorexia nervosas effect on your physical and mental health is incredibly serious. No idealized body type is worth the debilitating, if not fatal, nature of the disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Food can bring immense feelings of enjoyment — instant gratification. We refer to our go-to snacks as “comfort food,” but that comfort soon turns to overwhelming shame once that entire pack of Oreos or oversized fast food meal and soda reaches the bottom of your stomach. It’s a quick fix to what was maybe a bummer of a day, but that “fix” is only intensifying your problems, relieving you of your self-confidence and replacing it with shame.
This is called Binge Eating Disorder (BED). People suffering from BED will repeatedly consume, in a short period of time, more food than people would normally eat under similar circumstances, sometimes taking in as much as 15,000 calories in a single sitting.
Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:
- Over eating at least twice a week for several months
- Stashing food for secret snacking
- Guilt after eating too much
- Eating food as a means to relieve stress
- Eating alone
- Eating to combat depression or boredom
- Feeling nauseated of physically uncomfortable after eating
- Excessive worry over eating habits
Although many of BED symptoms sound similar to those of bulimia, the main difference is the lack of excessive measures taken to counteract the overeating, resulting in obesity.
Eating Disorder Causes
Numerous factors can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, including:
- Unhappiness with body image
- Perceived societal pressures
- Poor self-esteem
- Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Depression and other emotional disorders
It’s no secret that popular media can play a significant role in the development of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia and BED. These often unrealistic expectations for what the human physique should look like can be a source of demoralization for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.
Forget what popular media has taught you to believe about what an attractive body looks like. Everyone has a unique shape. What’s important is that you are healthy, clear-minded and confident. Accept what you look like now, and address your physical health — don’t become disillusioned by seeking a particular shape. Live healthy, live long, live happily.
I need help. How can I deal with my eating disorder?
For those struggling with eating disorder, the problem is rarely lessened (in any positive, meaningful way, at least) after reading a few encouraging words. These issues are much more complicated than a gap in information.
We do however, want to share with you some pointers that our clients have found helpful in dealing with an eating disorder.
Here are some tips that clients have found helpful for managing their relationships with food:
Eat several small meals throughout the day. Spread your eating out into five or six smaller meals, occurring at regular intervals throughout the day, instead of concentrating your eating to two or three large meals.
Only eat things that provide actual nutritional benefit. Forget the complicated eating regimens and trendy diets. Eating well is not even remotely complicated. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and lean meats for protein. Instead of snacking on junk foods, consider a handful of almonds for their healthy fats, protein and filling fiber. Almond milk is also delicious and less fatty than cow milk — you may even like it better.
Water. Drink lots and lots of water. Water keeps you hydrated, yes, but it’s also great at taking the edge of your food cravings, which sometimes are just a signal that you’re dehydrated.
Reduce stress. When you’re stressed or anxious, it’s easy to reach for some chocolate for a quick rush of endorphins. Unfortunately, that quick burst of happiness you get from sugary snacks soon gives you a similar drop in mood and energy (sugar crash).
Get plenty of exercise. Don’t underestimate the strong connection between mind and body. It has been proven over and over again that even small (but regular) periods of exercise can work wonders when it comes to boosting your mood. A healthy, active body is a healthy, active mind.
Learn your triggers. Have you noticed a certain activity that makes you want to overindulge? If fast food TV commercials, for example, get you craving something unhealthy, consider turning off the television and getting to that book you’ve been meaning to read. Or go for a walk. Call a trusted friend.
Talk to a therapist. This is where we excel. At Thriveworks Austin Counseling and Coaching, our goal is to help you develop a healthier lifestyle, one based on your needs and not on what the media defines as beautiful. Our therapists have the training and experience you need in order to break free from your unhealthy relationship with food. Learn how to let your eating habits work for you, not against you.
Sample All the Flavors that Life can Offer
Food is important, but it shouldn’t consume your life. Learn to use food as a tool instead of as a weapon of self-harm. Learning to balance your diet and physical activity is paramount for living a happy, successful life. Sure, some people are “blessed” with genetics that seem to allow them to eat whatever they want with little to no adverse affects, but they’re probably doing more damage to their bodies than they realize.
When put in its proper place, food can give you the energy to achieve your goals. You can learn how. Let us show you.
Your eating disorder doesn’t have to control you. Contact us today, and begin the journey to change.