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Eating Disorder Treatment

In our image-obsessed world, eating disorders are more common than many people believe. It is thought that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are currently suffering from an eating disorder, with 25% of these cases being male. [1]

An eating disorder can develop at any age, with some people diagnosed as young as six years old and others noticing the symptoms beginning to emerge in their seventies. Regardless of when this mental health disorder begins to manifest, the effect it can have on the individual, as well as their friends and family, can be devastating. [2]

What are the different types of eating disorders?

While eating disorders often manifest in the ingestion (or lack of ingestion) of food, they are more complex than what we put in our mouths. An eating disorder is a severe and complicated mental health condition that can be deadly if left untreated and stems from a number of factors that are often unrelated to food and body image.

There are a number of different eating disorders that affect a range of people regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. Some are based on the fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, while others are characterised by a lack of control around food or extremely low interest in eating.

Some of the more common types of eating disorder include:

1. Anorexia nervosa

A serious and potentially deadly mental disorder, anorexia can cause sufferers to severely restrict their food and beverage intake which often results in an extremely low weight. Many people dealing with anorexia have a distorted view of their own body, believing that they are overweight even when they are dangerously thin.

Anyone can develop anorexia including men, women and children. It is also possible to suffer with anorexia while still maintaining a healthy weight, and these individuals do not always receive the correct diagnosis. [3]

2. Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to binge on large quantities of food before forcing themselves to purge in the form of vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting or compulsively exercising.

Many people who deal with bulimia feel as though they have no control over themselves during a binge-purge episode. They may feel disgusted with their actions but are unable to stop the behaviour. Like anorexia, anyone can develop bulimia nervosa.

3. Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder can be similar in many ways to bulimia, with sufferers feeling compelled to ingest large quantities of food, but they typically do not follow this with an episode of purging. This is thought to be the most common form of eating disorder, with many sufferers remaining undiagnosed.

People dealing with binge eating disorder feel as though they have no control over their food intake, often ingesting extremely large portions and eating at a rapid rate. This eating disorder is usually diagnosed when an individual experiences a binge eating episode once a week for a minimum of three months.

4. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

Someone who displays a lack of interest in food, refuses to eat due to sensory issues or has a fear of choking which restricts their food intake may be diagnosed with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

This disorder can sometimes be confused with anorexia, but the key difference is that the individual is not avoiding food due to a fear of gaining weight or a distorted body image. It can result in malnutrition and extreme weight loss, and should be treated as early as possible.

Can I die from an eating disorder?

If left untreated, an eating disorder can cause serious illness or even death. When compared to all other psychiatric disorders, anorexia has the highest mortality rate with sufferers succumbing to the effects of this illness as well as committing suicide at an increased rate.

Bulimia can also result in a number of physical symptoms that can be life-threatening, such as the rupturing of the stomach and oesophagus. Binge eaters are at an increased risk of developing obesity over a period of time, and may suffer with the physical effects of this disease.

Finally, many individuals who live with an eating disorder may eventually begin to suffer the effects of malnutrition as they are unable to receive adequate nutrition from their restrictive diet, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

What causes an eating disorder?

There is no definitive answer regarding which specific factors cause an eating disorder. Some people speculate that the ‘eating disorder gene’ can be passed down through generations of family members, but this has not been proven to be the primary cause of this issue.

It is more likely that an eating disorder can be caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors, such as schoolyard bullying combined with low self-esteem and an underlying mental health issue. [3]

Some of the more common causes of eating disorders include:

  • Chronically low self-esteem
  • A ‘perfectionist’ mindset
  • An underlying mental health issue
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Abuse or neglect in childhood
  • Genes passed on through generations

Who is more likely to suffer from an eating disorder?

While an eating disorder can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of an individual developing an eating disorder.

These factors can include:

  • A family history of an eating disorder or some type of food restriction
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Experiencing abuse or another traumatic event
  • Periods of extreme stress
  • Attempting to diet or restrict food intake for weight loss
  • Age and sex: eating disorders are more common in female teenagers and younger women

Do I need treatment for an eating disorder?

Accepting that you may be suffering from an eating disorder can be overwhelming and scary, but it can also be a relief to start treatment and realise that these thoughts and behaviours no longer need to be a part of your life.

Our behaviours can quickly become normalised, and as a result it can be difficult to recognise that you have a problem. If you can relate to some of the below statements, you may be struggling with an eating disorder and should seek medical advice.

  • I feel a lot of anxiety around food and eating in general
  • Other people have commented on my eating habits out of concern
  • A lot of my time is spent focusing on my weight and body shape
  • I will avoid social events that involve food
  • I have implemented strict rules and routines around food and eating
  • My mood is often dictated by my eating habits
  • I have noticed physical symptoms including dizziness and feeling cold
  • I no longer get my period, or my menstrual cycle has become irregular
  • My weight is higher or lower than many people of the same age

It is possible to be diagnosed with an eating disorder even if you do not experience the above symptoms. For this reason, is important that you do not self-diagnose an eating disorder – instead, speak to a medical professional who will be able to provide a full examination and diagnosis.

What are the long-term risks of an eating disorder?

While the short-term effects of an eating disorder can be unpleasant and difficult to deal with, the long-term risks are extremely physically and mentally detrimental. In severe cases, they can lead to loss of life.

Some long-term effects of an eating disorder include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Heart failure
  • Increased risk of developing a substance use disorder
  • Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Digestive problems
  • Ruptured stomach
  • Damage to oesophagus
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disrupted menstrual cycle
  • Death

How are eating disorders treated?

It is possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder, and many patients are able to enjoy a healthy relationship with food and their body image after treatment.

Studies show that almost 46% of patients dealing with anorexia will fully recover, while 33% will make significant improvements. Similar figures are seen in bulimia patients, with 45% managing to fully recover and 27% making significant improvements.

Here at OK Rehab we typically recommend inpatient treatment within a specialised treatment centre for people struggling with an eating disorder. This allows medical professionals to effectively treat and monitor food intake while providing guidance and nutritional therapy to help prevent future relapse.

Through effective counselling, patients will begin to uncover the causes of their eating disorder and will learn how to manage uncomfortable and stressful situations around food without relapsing into disordered eating patterns.

Common therapy techniques offered to people with eating disorders include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Self-image therapy

A typical eating disorder treatment programme will usually last for around 30 days, with an aftercare plan implemented once the inpatient programme has ended. It is important to continue to work on mindset shifts around disordered eating and body image, and local support groups will be able to provide guidance and advice even after the initial treatment programme has ended.

References

[1] https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics

[2] https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng69/resources/resource-impact-report-pdf-4479687469

[3] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/

 

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