All information on this page is from the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. They provide an invaluable resource.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses; they are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone ‘too far.’
For some people, restricting their food and weight can be a way of controlling areas of life that feel out of their control and their body image can come to define their entire sense of self worth. It can also be a way of expressing emotions that may feel too complex or frightening such as pain, stress or anxiety.
Restrictive dieting and excessive exercise can be contributing factors to the onset of Anorexia. Women and girls with Anorexia may use dieting behaviour in a bid to achieve a culturally constructed thin ideal whereas men may over exercise and control their diet to achieve a muscular body.
It is commonly accepted that Anorexia is more frequently diagnosed in females across the ages. However, a recent population study has suggested that in adolescents, there are an equal number of males and females suffering from this illness.
Restricted energy intake
A person with Anorexia is unable to maintain what is considered to be a normal and healthy weight. They could also have lost a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time.
A fear of gaining weight
Even when people with Anorexia are underweight, starved or malnourished they still possess an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight.
Disturbed body image
When someone has Anorexia the amount of attention they place on their body image can be enormous. The person’s self worth can become entirely defined by the way they think they look. A person with Anorexia can also develop a distorted view of their body. They may see themselves as overweight when in reality they are dangerously underweight. Frequently there is a preoccupation with certain body parts, particularly the abdomen, buttocks and thighs.
Bulimia is characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours.
In addition, people with bulimia place an excessive emphasis on body shape or weight in their self-evaluation. This can lead to the person’s sense of self-esteem and self worth being wholly defined by the way they look.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating involves two key features:
- Eating a very large amount of food within a relatively short period of time
- Feeling a sense of loss of control while eating (e.g. feeling unable to stop yourself from eating)
What are compensatory behaviours?
Compensatory behaviours are used as a way of trying to control weight after binge eating episodes. They include:
- Misusing laxatives or diuretics
- Excessive exercise
- Use of any drugs, illicit, prescription and/or ‘over the counter’ inappropriately for weight control
This condition describes frequent periods of overeating "binging" but without the compensating behaviour of bullemia nervosa. It is characterised by:
Frequent episodes of binge eating
A person with Binge Eating Disorder will repeatedly engage in binge eating episodes where they eat a large amount of food in a short period of time. During these episodes they will feel a loss of control over their eating and may not be able to stop even if they want to.
A person with Binge Eating Disorder will often have a range of identifiable eating habits. These can include eating very quickly, eating when they are not physically hungry and continuing to eat even when they are full, to the point that they feel uncomfortable.
Feelings around food
Feelings of guilt and shame are highly prevalent in people with Binge Eating Disorder. People with Binge Eating Disorder often feel guilty or ashamed about the amount, and the way they eat during a binge eating episode. Binge eating often occurs at times of stress, anger, boredom or distress. At such times, binge eating is used as a way to cope with challenging emotions.
Behaviours around food
Because of their feelings around food, people with Binge Eating Disorder are often very secretive about their eating habits and choose to eat alone.