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Eating Disorders

What are they and what causes them?

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Our relationship with food is pretty important: We need it to survive, thrive and just keep swimming on a daily basis. Any changes in our eating habits can have a pretty big affect on our lives and that's why eating disorders are something we should be aware of.

Eating Disorders: The Facts

  • An eating disorder is a health condition that causes a serious and potentially life-threatening change in your normal eating habits.
  • Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder are the three most commonly recognised forms.
  • Both men and women are affected by them and they can battle with an eating disorder at any stage in their lives.
  • Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren't necessarily about food: They're often a sign of underlying worries and emotional stress.

Having an eating disorder might mean:

  • Starving yourself or restricting what you eat to very small amounts.
  • Eating huge amounts of food until you feel sick (called binging or binge eating).
  • Making yourself vomit (This might be as serious as a few times a day or only happening once every few weeks).
  • Using laxatives (medication that causes diarrhoea) or diuretics (drugs that remove fluid from the body) to keep weight off.
  • Exercising more than is healthy.
  • Any of these are extremely unhealthy, for your body AND your emotions.

Do I have an eating disorder?

  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about eating? Are you frightened of putting on weight or do you check your weight all the time?
  • Do you worry all the time about your weight or body shape or about what you’re eating?
  • Do you exercise all the time to work off what you eat?
  • Do you think about food all the time?
  • Are you very critical of yourself? Do you think that you could do things better such as losing more weight or exercising more?
  • Do you eat when you feel depressed or down about yourself?

If you have an eating disorder: 

  • You might diet often and be very concerned with your body weight, shape or size.
  • You may think that your body is bigger than it really is. Maybe you even wonder if you have an obsession with food.
  • Maybe you have low self-esteem or very little confidence about your looks or personality. You could feel depressed or lonely and have mood swings.
  • You think that being slim will solve all your problems and are frightened of putting on weight.
  • You might have problems speaking about your feelings and worries.

What causes eating disorders?

  • There's no single reason for eating disorders. They usually develop over time in reaction to a range of factors such as life changes, bullying, teasing about your body, loss, stress or depression. Eating disorders can also be linked with difficult experiences from the past that have not been resolved.
  • Culture and fashion can give us the idea that being thin means being happy.
  • Dieting and especially extreme diets add to the risk of developing an eating disorder.
  • Controlling food might make you feel like you have more control over your life.
  • Low self-esteem or a lack of confidence can lead to eating disorders.

Health side-effects of eating disorders:

  • In the most serious cases, an eating disorder can be fatal.
  • If you have an eating disorder, you might withdraw from friends and family and from your normal activities, in an effort to hide the problem.
  • You might have mood swings and feel down a lot. Eating disorders can cause depression over time.
  • You may suffer from a range of side effects such as loss of energy, poor sleep, anxiety and coldness. You might be prone to becoming sick easily.
  • You may have problems with your teeth and skin.
  • Eating disorders can cause serious damage to internal organs. 
  • If the body is starved, there can be a drop in blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate. 
  • Eating disorders may cause anaemia and brittle bones. Your periods will often stop also.
  • Bulimia can damage the stomach and kidneys from vomiting. In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to serious malnutrition or death. 
  • Emotionally, you can have a distorted body image (for example thinking you are fat even though your body is very thin) and be obsessed with your weight. You might get depressed, feel constantly guilty or hate yourself.

If you feel that you may have an eating disorder you should contact Bodywhys which is the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland for more information and support.

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Published December 20th, 2012
Last updated February 26th, 2018
Tags body image self esteem eating disorder
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