An eating disorder is a condition marked by an unhealthy relationship with food. There is a range of conditions within the category of eating disorders. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food, it does not make you a bad person whatsoever. We all have challenges we face; however, approaching this difficulty head-on is the best way to deal with it. While it’s important to get an eating disorder diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional, knowing the signs of an eating disorder can help you determine when to seek help. Try these three effective tips on how to overcome an eating disorder and find the support you need.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses associated with disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you may eat too much or too little food or obsess about eating behaviors and patterns. People with eating disorders use disordered eating as a way of coping with certain situations and feelings.
Signs of an eating disorder may include:
- Eating very little food
- Spending a lot of time worrying about food and body shape
- Having strict rules around food
- Avoiding social events if food is involved
- Your weight is very high or low for your age and height
- Feeling cold, tired, or dizzy
Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of background, culture, age, race, and gender. Eating disorders affect nine percent of the US population, with 28.8 million Americans suffering from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. About twenty-six percent of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
While many symptoms of eating disorders include disordered eating behaviors, many associated emotions can lead to low self-esteem and difficulty socializing. Research shows that there is a common link between mental health and eating disorders.
What are the Different Types of Eating Disorder?
It’s important to remember that eating disorders are not just about food but feelings. The way a person uses food to cope may make them feel more in control, even though they are unaware of that intention. An eating disorder is never the person’s fault, and anyone who feels like they need help deserves to access fast and compassionate support.
An eating disorder can look different in each individual. The umbrella term includes several conditions that can have a deeply adverse effect on a person’s life, including:
- Anorexia nervosa
People with anorexia tend to think they are overweight and try to keep their weight as low as possible through under-eating or over-exercising. You may have body dysmorphia where you have a distorted view of your body.
- Bulimia nervosa
Bulimia is an unhealthy cycle of eating and then trying to stop weight gain through vomiting or laxatives.
- Binge eating
Binging is typified by a large quantity of food in a short time and feeling a loss of control, shame, and guilt afterward.
- Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)
This category is for individuals who don’t fit into a strict diagnosis but still have an eating disorder.
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Similar to anorexia, however, ARFID doesn’t involve fear around gaining weight or distress with body shape and size.
- Rumination Disorder
This condition involves regular regurgitation of food for at least one month. Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)
This category includes individuals who have some eating disorder symptoms but do not meet the full criteria in eating disorder and feeding conditions may receive a diagnosis of UFED.
3 Tips to Effectively Manage Eating Disorders
When it comes to overcoming eating disorders, approaching the problem head-on is the best route. That’s not to say it’s the easiest way at all. Anxiety, depression, childhood sexual abuse, and low self-esteem are risk factors for eating disorders. There’s so much more to managing an eating disorder than just changing your behavior. That’s why it’s so important to identify symptoms of an eating disorder so that you can find the support you need.
1. Challenge Negative Thoughts
If you have an unhealthy relationship with food and experience an eating disorder, you are more likely to think negatively about body shape, weight, and eating. Some people refer to this thinking as the “eating disorder voice”; a “relentless” and “intrusive voice.” That inner voice can make people feel low and push them to restrict, purge, or binge even more.
Behavioral changes are crucial to overcoming eating disorders, but challenging negative thoughts is a valuable strategy to help address dysfunctional thinking. Here are some useful ways to handle negative thinking:
- Challenge the negative thought and replace it with facts.
- Create coping cards and read them daily whenever you have a negative thought.
- Label a thought as an “eating disorder thought” to defuse the thinking, so it’s easier to take another actionable step.
2. Engage in Self-Compassion
Sometimes the inner critic inside your head can feel so overwhelmingly powerful that you can’t hear anything else. The eating disorder voice is a loud one. By engaging in self-compassion, you can begin to shift that negative self-talk and focus on loving and being kind to yourself. Start to practice self-love and create an environment of compassion. Here are some effective tips for setting the tone for self-compassion:
- Find a soothing touch.
Close your eyes and try various gestures and small movements to find out what soothes you. This could include rocking your leg, caressing the inside of your palms, tapping your chest, etc.
- Have a self-care break.
Use mindfulness to identify and validate your difficult situation.
- Take a step back.
Remind yourself that everyone has challenging experiences and situations and many people feel imperfect or not good enough.
- Be kind to yourself.
Incorporate kind and compassionate words into your self-talk.
- Focus on your feet.
Focusing on the soles of the feet can be effective in recognizing and appreciating how you feel when you move and sit.
3. Seek Professional Support
There are different levels of treatment and help for eating disorders, from support groups and nutritional therapy to psychotherapy. It’s crucial that you speak to a licensed mental health professional if you feel like you’re experiencing signs of an eating disorder. Only someone who is qualified can provide an eating disorder diagnosis.
A nutritionist has a role to play in treating eating disorders. Nutrition therapy involves a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), nutrition plans, education, and goal setting. It’s completely normal to feel scared and anxious about meeting with a nutritionist, but it’s an integral part of recovery.
The best treatment depends on the individual and the diagnosis. Mental health treatment is another part of professional support which can occur in different settings, such as:
- Outpatient and intensive outpatient treatments
- Residential treatment
- Impatient or hospital treatment
Some of the most common types of mental health treatments for eating disorders include:
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT helps patients become more aware of and accept emotions and experiences.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on negative patterns of thinking and the thoughts and beliefs of this thinking.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
DBT focuses on connecting cognitive and behavioral approaches as a way to cope with painful emotions.
If you’re wondering how to find the right therapist, there are several platforms you can use to help narrow down your choice. A great place to start is Better Help which is the world’s largest e-counseling platform with a counselor directory of highly trained and accredited psychologists.
How to Overcome an Eating Disorder and When to Ask for Help
The earlier you can detect an eating disorder, the higher the chance of recovery. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of early signs of an eating disorder. It’s important to know that there is no checklist for eating disorders. Often, individuals experience different symptoms, and the signs don’t always fit neatly into a category. If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, seek professional help and support so that you can approach the problem effectively and move forward one step at a time.
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