Healthy Mind

Eating disorders

How do I know if I have an eating Disorder?

People with eating disorders typically worry a lot about their weight and about the food that they are eating, or trying not to eat. You may have an eating disorder if some of the following are happening:

  • Excessive concern and preoccupation about calories or fear of weight gain.
  • Eating habits you know in your heart are abnormal.
  • You have a lot of shame and guilt about eating.
  • You vomit to avoid gaining weight or use laxatives.
  • Your weight fluctuates a lot.
  • There are a lot of foods you strictly avoid to control your weight and you feel like a terrible person if you eat any of these foods.
  • You have unmanageable cravings for certain foods that you think you should not be eating.
  • Exercise is something you are driven to do.
  • You are depressed and irritable.
  • You pretend that you have eaten to get people ?off your back?.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are complex and potentially life-threatening conditions from which people can and do get better with appropriate treatment. Although the term ?eating disorder? is applied to a wide range of eating behaviours, only anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are listed in official classifications of eating disorders. Eating disorders can affect anyone.

Anorexia Nervosa

A person with anorexia nervosa is looking to achieve a weight and body ideal below what is normal for their age, sex and height. People with anorexia are preoccupied with thoughts of food and how to avoid it and they may exercise excessively and engage in other purging behaviours to get rid of whatever food they put into their body. People with anorexia can have their weight plummet quite dramatically but they won?t see themselves as ever being thin enough.

Likely effects as anorexia nervosa advances

  • Irregular periods or periods stopping altogether as the reproductive and hormonal system is disrupted. Sometimes fertility can be damaged irreversibly
  • Always feeling cold. A soft downy hair appearing on the body to try to keep it warm.
  • Constant tiredness and lack of energy but difficulty in sleeping
  • Shortness of breath and general breathing problems
  • Advanced anorexia nervosa can cause heart difficulties
  • Malnutrition
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Constipation

Anorexia is most common in teenage girls but more cases of children and also young men are cropping up.

Bulimia Nervosa

A person with bulimia will overeat (binge) on food and then try to make up for this by purging the food in their body. This is commonly done by throwing up after a meal or a binge, by taking laxatives, by exercising excessively etc. People with bulimia are often in the normal weight range for their age, sex and height. Because of this it can take longer for the disorder to be recognised. The longer a disorder runs for, the more difficult it will be to treat.

Effects of bulimia are: erosion of the enamel on the teeth because of stomach acid, irregular periods, digestive problems (cramps, wind, constipation etc.), tiredness, poor skin, headaches, dehydration.

A sign of bulimia can be calices on the knuckles. These arise when the person uses their fingers to make themselves vomit.

Binge Eating Disorder

This is sometimes known as compulsive eating and involves episodes of bingeing but without the purging. It can therefore cause significant weight gain over a period of time which can have serious consequences. The person may feel locked in a destructive battle of eating and dieting, self-loathing and self-criticism. This particular disorder is thought to be as common in men as in women. 10% of people presenting to a Dublin weight management clinic with obesity, had Binge Eating Disorder.

What help is available?

Help is available in many forms. Exactly how treatment takes shape and how it works will be different for everyone. There is a 20% mortality rate of reported eating disorders in Ireland, particularly in relation to anorexia, so it is important not to ignore the issue and seek help and support as soon as possible.

For Further Information
Bodywhys (The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland)
Eating Disorder Resource Centre of Ireland