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Understanding Eating Disorders…….

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February is National Eating Disorders Awareness month.
The idea of this month is to develop and increase the knowledge and understanding
that people have about Eating Disorders. This can often be limited and it is generally
misunderstood. For example a very popular assumption is that Eating Disorders only happen to women.  Men do however live with Eating Disorders on a daily basis, and often find it difficult to ask for help.

When people hear the words ‘Eating Disorder’ they often assume that this means
someone that is incredibly thin or they think that an Eating Disorder is simply
about food.  These are very common misconceptions.  As is the view that a person
has a choice about what they are doing.  You will often hear negative and quite ignorant comments, such as ‘they are doing it to themselves’ or ‘why don’t they just eat’.  It is comments like this that can leave someone with an Eating Disorder feeling so alone , isolated and as though they have done something wrong.  This in turn leads them to turn to their eating disorder even more.

At Your Counselling Service a large part of the work that we do is with Eating
Disorders.  When we are working with clients (either in group or on an individual basis) we focus on getting to know that person individually.  People are not their Eating Disorders. This is so important.  Often by the time people come for treatment all that they have heard about is their issues with food.  Families, friends, doctors etc can all end up focusing on the behaviour, on eating / not eating, exercising / not exercising, without actually acknowledging that there is still a person underneath all of that.  Often
someone in a lot of pain, struggling with a lot of different emotions and feelings, and unable to express themselves.

An eating disorder becomes someone’s way of dealing with their feelings.  It is an unhealthy and destructive way of expressing them.  People are often keen
to pin point the exact cause of an eating disorder or to assume that it means
there has to have been some kind of sexual abuse, or other eating disorders in
the family.  The fact is that there are many different things that can contribute to eating disorders developing.  Yes sexual abuse, and genetics can play a part, as can picking up on eating behaviours as children.  But there are many other factors that can
also affect the way that someone eats.  These can include bullying, divorce, peer pressure, bereavement, academic pressure / struggles, family dynamics, relationship difficulties, issues around self -esteem and confidence – to name just a few.

No one can determine when an eating disorder will develop, or predict who will get
one.  Often the initial changes are very subtle and it is hard to pick up on what is happening.  Sadly it is only once things get a lot more severe that people tend to get help.  But disordered eating has a large scale, and so many people are affected by it.

Diets – these can often be encouraged in society.  People can talk about losing weight, cutting back on certain foods, and perhaps including exercise in this.  This
can however become addictive and before people know it they are cutting out
more and more food types, and exercise increases.  Addiction takes over and the weight continues to drop.  Anorexia kicks in.  Being anorexic doesn’t only mean being severely thin and hospitalised on a drip.  Many people are anorexic but functioning on some level – for example working, at university etc.  There weight is severely low, but
not quite low enough to go into inpatient treatment.  This is a dangerous place to be as people cannot see how ill they are themselves.  But weight drops off, periods stop, food decreases – the physical and emotional effects are huge and very damaging.
People can often become obsessed with weighing themselves, carolie counting etc.

In therapy we often talk about the best friend and the worst enemy.  Anorexia is powerful, and takes over – it can destroy someone’s life, yet at the same time it can feel like a comfort for them.  The one thing that they can rely on.  This applies to all types of eating disorders too. It takes a lot of work to challenge this and for people to start to let
go.

Exercise addiction is another form of disordered eating, and this can also over lap to
people that are bulimic or binge eat.  Not all people with any type of eating disorder will over exercise.  But is can be a problem area. And often something that people don’t recognise as an issue.  In society exercise is often encouraged.  Yet this can also take over, and it can be used as a way of purging feelings for example and a way of people trying to control their weight.

For some this is very difficult – they may appear in the ‘normal weight range’ and
no one can see that they are living with an eating disorder.  This can often be the case with people that are bulimic, because they binge and then make themselves sick, or they make themselves sick after eating anything.

It is most likely that they will appear a ‘healthy’ weight.  This can be incredibly frustrating for them and add to the secrecy of their eating disorder.  This brings about so much shame and often guilt, that needs addressing. In the Eating Disorder groups that we run at ‘Your counselling service’, we encourage people with all types of eating disorders tobe in the same therapy group. This is a really good opportunity to challenge the myths, beliefs and pre conceptions that people may have about them being bulimic in comparison to anorexic.  The truth is that both (as well as exercise addiction) are dangerous for physical and mental health, life threatening, and so difficult and painful to live with on a daily basis.

This also extends to people that binge eat. They may binge at various times of the day (often in the evening for example), or they may compulsively over eat throughout the day.  This can leave them feeling so out of control, and often really disgusted with themselves.  Society can often label people as being either ‘fat’ or ‘lazy’ without considering the emotional turmoil that they are living with.

Imagine a voice inside your head telling you all the time what to eat, what not to eat
, when to exercise, when to weigh yourself etc.  Imagine a voice that tells you all the time that you are not good enough, that you are fat, ugly, worthless, unlovable and that no one wants or likes you.  Imagine this voice going around all day long, and sometimes at night when you are trying to sleep.  It never stops.  It never rests.  It’s there all the time, waiting for moments when you are vulnerable, waiting to try and take over.  Only then you can even slightly imagine the hell of living with an eating disorder. At ‘Your counselling service’ we take this nightmare very seriously and do everything we can to challenge the voices that try to destroy people’s lives.  Our group therapy and individual
counselling service specialises in Eating Disorders.  The feedback we get is that we ‘really do get it’.  We work hard to help people to get their lives back on track and to not be controlled by food.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with any issues around food, please do pick up the phone (07590 663938) or e mail info@yourcounsellingservice.co.uk
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