People with anorexia restrict their food to the point that they lose weight dramatically and often dangerously. The desperate drive to shed pounds provokes some to abuse laxatives, exercise excessively and induce vomiting. Food, weight and calorie-counting become an obsession. Meal-planning is meticulous and often omits whole food groups (normally carbohydrates and dairy). Individuals have the belief that they will be in control of themselves and their lives only if they maintain a tight control of their food and weight. Anorexia can cause lasting damage to and has the highest morbidity rate of any psychiatric condition.
Those suffering from bulimia eat large amounts of food and then do everything they can to get rid of it. Laxative abuse, over-exercising and self-induced vomiting are even more common than in anorexia. Bulimics are either a healthy weight or overweight but often long to be thinner. It is not unusual for people with bulimia to turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm and other self-destructive behaviour. Food is regarded as both comforting (hence the binge) and toxic (the subsequent purge). Again, damage to the body can be significant.
Binge eating (or compulsive eating or overeating) involves episodes of uncontrollable eating, but without the bulimic drive to get rid of it. An emotional ‘hunger’ – for comfort or reassurance, for example – is experienced concretely as a physical need. Binge eaters are generally considerably overweight – with all the health risks this involves. Interestingly, government initiatives to tackle the nation’s weight problems fail to mention the psychological aspects of overeating. It’s not enough to adopt a healthy diet but to address the underlying reasons that drive people to eat to excess.
Treatment of eating disorders generally encompasses the psychological and the dietetic and is rarely straightforward. Addressing the underlying issues and supporting people as they face life challenges without these risky ‘coping mechanisms’ are fundamental to recovery. It’s crucial to be familiar with the physiological ‘danger signs’ and to know when a client requires more than private psychotherapy.
Lynn has well over ten years’ experience of working with adolescents and adults in specialist settings (primary, secondary and tertiary) as well as in private practice. She has access to a network of highly skilled professional colleagues, including psychiatrists, dieticians and occupational therapists.
Treatment of eating disorders generally encompasses the psychological and the dietetic and is rarely straightforward.