Our society’s complex relationship with food has fostered a wide range of eating disorders. The broad term refers to both anorexia and bulimia, along with other conditions such as binge-eating disorder. All of these are driven by psychological issues, usually relating to an obsession with appearance, and these have to be tackled with the help of a counsellor if they’re ever going to be controlled. Eating disorders are more common in women, but men can still suffer from them, so it’s important to consider all behaviour indicative of a problem regardless of who is displaying it.
It would be hard to deny that the media places a great deal of importance on maintaining a trim figure. Women’s magazines placing garish red circles around celebrities’ exposed rolls of fat and models maintaining skeletal figures for their careers are two examples of this perception. Likewise, a family member you haven’t seen for a while may comment positively on your weight loss or snipe a back-handed comment like, “You look like you’re eating well.” If somebody already has low self esteem, these messages are more likely to sink in, and unhealthy behaviour could follow.
Although the pressure the media and general society place on individuals to lose weight is obviously a contributing factor, it isn’t the entire picture. There is some evidence of a genetic predisposition to eating disorders, but other factors are more widely recognised. For example, somebody with an anxiety disorder or obsessive traits is much more likely to suffer from an eating disorder. The conditions are also more likely when there has been a traumatic experience during childhood, including sexual or emotional abuse and the death of a loved one. Therapists endeavour to determine these causes and help the individual work through the consequent issues.
There are several different types of eating disorder which may require counselling. Anorexia nervosa is characterised by a desire to severely limit food intake and a fear of becoming fat. This leads the individual to rigidly control what they eat, and even exercise despite self-starvation. A big factor is body dysmorphic disorder, where the individual believes they are larger than they actually are. This is often used as a justification to continue dieting. Bulimia is a more sporadic disorder, characterised by food binges followed by induced vomiting or laxative use to avoid getting fat. If the individual binges but does not purge, they may be suffering from binge eating disorder, which generally results from depression or anxiety issues.
Psychotherapy for eating disorders largely revolves around identifying the contributing factors and helping the individual work through them. The counsellor has to change the way the person thinks in order to address their behaviour, and this means that any underlying issues have to be tackled effectively and positively. The wide range of potential causes for eating disorders means that the process may take some time, and an obsession with food may still persist after treatment. People with eating disorders are usually taught healthier coping mechanisms so they can deal with these day-to-day issues.
If you or your loved one might be suffering from an eating disorder, you should seek help immediately. The individual might claim that he or she has already eaten, complain about their weight despite not being fat, avoid eating in public and only eat low-calorie foods around you. These warning signs, coupled with evidence of binging or drastic weight loss, mean that the situation has to be addressed. If you’re unsure of what to do, or have any questions about treatment, we’re here to help you. We’ll help you determine if there is an issue and suggest the best courses of action.
For more information about our costs for eating disorder counselling services please see the about us page.