In this article:
Eating is essential to life. In western societies, most of us have enough to eat and so our relationship with food is no longer just about survival. Our own relationship with food begins when we are babies and often family and social interactions occur in the context of eating. Food takes on a wealth of social, familial, cultural and personal meanings.
Eating, for most people, is enjoyable. However, in today’s society we are faced with constant social media images of food, eating and ideal body shapes that complicate our relationship with food and with our bodies.
Consequently, it is not surprising that many people, both men and women, and increasingly at an earlier age, develop issues and problems around food. Eating too little or too much, feeling unhappy about their bodies, adopting some compensatory behaviours such as over exercising or purging.
Eating disorders can be an external expression of internal emotional pain and confusion. Obsessive thoughts about, and the behaviour associated with food (e.g. over exercise, over or under eating, vomiting and purging, social withdrawal etc.) may be ‘maladaptive’ attempts at processing emotional distress that cannot be otherwise expressed. Often, this emotional distress may be linked to a very negative self-perception, a feeling of being unable to change ‘bad’ things about oneself.
Feelings of being ‘out of control’ may be overwhelming and food is then often used as a way of taking back some control, until this too becomes an area which is ‘out of control’.
An eating disorder involves a distorted pattern of thinking about food and size and weight, to the extent that there is a preoccupation and obsessive quality to thinking about food, together with an issue of control or lack of control around food and its consumption.
There are several recognised eating disorders and areas of disordered eating.
Conditions as complex as eating disorders mean that there are variations in the typical signs, and not all symptoms will apply to all people. You may feel that you have a mixture of Anorexia and Bulimia, or alternate between them. Some people also find they are affected by an urge to harm themselves or abuse alcohol or drugs.
Even if you don’t have these symptoms, if you’re worried and upset by something, anything, it is important to find appropriate support and someone to talk to.