How can you tell if you have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are on one end of a scale of varying symptoms. The opposite end is what I would refer to as intuitive eating.

I work with clients who find themselves on the wrong end of the spectrum who want to move back to the healthier end.

These clients usually come to me because they want to lose weight and may not feel they have an eating disorder, but with careful assessment I can help figure out what is really going on.

Problems with eating can be complex and there is no one single cause of eating disorders. They are not the same as changing your diet and worrying about the way you look. They can take over your life and the lives of your family and people around you. Eating disorders are not just about food – they can be a way of coping or feeling in control. Eating disorders are serious and everyone who has one deserves care and support.

The following is an overview which can help you think about your own eating behaviours or somebody you care about, and decide if there might be a problem.

So how can you tell if you have an eating disorder?

If your diet becomes restrictive or based on external cues rather than biological hunger, fullness or satiety, you start to slide away from intuitive eating towards disordered eating then that can descend into eating disorder. Three important aspects of eating disorders (and disordered eating) are: 1. Your eating behaviour, or your attitudes about food, weight or your body shape are taking pleasure out of your life. 2. You worry a lot about your weight and about the food you are eating (or trying not to eat). 3. Most of your thoughts are about food, weight and shape and it impacts on other areas of your life. You probably have an eating disorder if some of the following is happening: Excessive preoccupation with calories. Perfectionist attitude to what and how you eat or what weight you should be. Overly concerned with your body shape and fear of weight gain. Eating habits that you know yourself are not normal. Shame and guilt around what or how you eat. People worrying about how thin you are even though you don't feel thin. You vomit or use laxatives or diuretics to try and stop yourself putting on weight. Your weight fluctuates a lot. You strictly avoid foods in order to control your weight, and you feel like you failed if you eat any of those foods. You have cravings that stop you from saying no to foods you think you should not be eating. You binge on foods you think you should not be eating. You feel out of control around food. Exercise is something you are driven to do - you would feel fat or like a bad person if you missed an exercise routine. You use exercise only as a way to burn calories. You are depressed and irritable. You have unexplained gut symptoms. You pretend that you have eaten to get people off your back. You secretly eat so people do not see what or how you eat. You hide food from others.

What about dieting? It's important to note that research tells us that in most cases eating disorders follow the onset of dieting behaviours. So if you are somebody who seems to always be either on or off a diet then it puts you at risk.

Please be aware that dieting does not always lead to an eating disorder, but an eating disorder is most certainly always precipitated by a diet. Physical and emotional changes which take place when you diet can lead to an eating disorder where you become trapped in the cycle of disordered behaviours. This happens more often with those who have low self esteem or tendancies to be perfectionist or have black or white thinking. Often the dieting behaviours or restrictions will become more extreme or elaborate and in return so does the disordered behaviour.

What to do next? If you have read through this and feel like you tick some of the boxes then I would urge you to find some help with a trained eating disorder therapist, coach or counsellor. Your GP is unlikely to be trained but you can ask, and I would definitely recommend you talk to your GP if you have any concerns as they can offer physical check ups which can highlight any issues present. NHS services are available but have long waiting lists and there are private services which you can seek out. Overeating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia can be treated with CBT self help programmes, either with or without the support of a trained professional such as myself. You can also search the internet for qualified professionals in your area. The National Centre For Eating Disorders is the only organisation in the UK that ensures core skills in CBT for the treatment of the overeating disorders so when looking for a professional to guide you in self help check they trained with them.

Anorexia treatment is more complex and often requires family therapy or hospital stays. This can be accessed through your GP or through private hospital services.

To make sure that your choice of professional has a formal training in eating disorders work I would recommend that you ask these questions: Do you understand the physiological/biological aspects of eating disorders and appetite? What is the extent of your knowledge of nutrition? Are you trained in CBT for eating disorders? What other formal training have you done for eating disorders?

A good competent therapist will be willing and able to answer your questions and explain how they would work with you to support you in your recovery and if they cannot help, should be able to point you in the right direction. If you want to talk to me about your eating problem or book an assessment please fill in the contact form and I will get back to you.

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