Food and eating is an essential part of healthy development and living. Experimenting with eating patterns is common (for example dieting, being vegetarian, sampling different foods, eating health foods) but sometimes eating patterns can become disordered and damaging. Sometimes people confuse who they are with what they look like and change their eating patterns as a result. Distress about eating is often linked to emotional distress in some way. Some common themes include:
- Preoccupation with food – thoughts and behaviours
- Issues around control or lack of control
- Negative perceptions of self, low self esteem, self-obsession
- Distorted thinking
- Secretive behaviour
Eating disorders often develop over time and may be recognised as:
- Anorexia – controlled and minimal food intake leading to excessive weight loss and distorted body image, often accompanied by excessive exercise.
- Bulimia – urges to over-eat (binge) followed by compensatory behaviour of purging by excessive fasting, self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives.
- Compulsive eating – urges to over-eat followed by more eating in attempts to regain control and comfort.
Moving out of Eating Distress
Recognising there is a problem and seeking support as early as possible is important. Often it is useful to tackle behaviours about food intake alongside working on the reasons for distorted and damaging behaviours around food. Talking through issues such as relating to family and friends, feelings about self and body image and any significant past events can help to make sense of why eating may have become disordered.