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Disordered Eating

Overview

Lots of people have different eating habits. You might eat loads one day, be less hungry another day, or go through phases of wanting to eat more or less healthy.

Your eating may be impacted by your day-to-day activity, cultural expectations or celebrations, family habits around meals, access to food, how much money you have or many other factors. What doesn’t change is that your body needs a variety of nutrients in order to grow, operate the way it is supposed to and be strong and healthy. These nutrients are provided through eating.

Changes in your eating or being different than others doesn’t mean you have an eating problem. But if you find yourself constantly focusing on and trying to control what or how much you eat, or if you have urges to eat and then make yourself sick, then these are signs you could have a problem.

Eating problems are common and they affect people with any body shape or lifestyle. Singers Demi Lovato and Zayn Malik have both spoken openly about having eating disorders and what they did to get better. All kinds of things can cause eating problems or disorders. You might develop an eating problem when things don’t feel right in other parts of your life, especially if you’re feeling worried, stressed or feeling out of control.

Pressure and expectations from your friends and family can impact how you feel about your body. Comments or judgmental language about your weight or how you look can be hurtful or make you sad or self-conscious. There is a lot of pressure to “fit in” and be the same as the people in your social circles.

The thing is, everyone is made to be unique with different heights and weights and colors of hair and eyes. It can be helpful to demonstrate positive language by speaking about looking healthy or full of energy and celebrating all the things that our body can do for us.

Images we see online and in the media, high-level athletic expectations, and participation in appearance judged sports (i.e. diving, gymnastics) can add to the feeling that one has to look a certain way or be a certain weight which may not be healthy for their body.

When problems with your eating become more serious, then they are called eating disorders.

The term eating disorders is used to describe problems with irregular eating habits and serious anxiety about body weight and/or shape. There are many diseases, disorders, and problems involving food, eating, and weight. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious and could become life-threatening conditions. If they are not recognized and addressed, an eating disorder may negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to do the things that you want to in life.

Eating disorders usually appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood. These disorders affect all genders, although rates among women are greater than among men.

50%

of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression

35%

of people that receive treatment for eating disorders get treatment at a specialized facility

10%

of men and women with eating disorders receive treatment

91%

of women surveyed in post-secondary school had attempted to control their weight through dieting.

*22% dieted ‘often’ or ‘always’*

 

It can be hard to know if you are having problems with your eating and sometimes even harder to accept that you need help. A good first step is to turn to the people in your life that you love and trust.

Early Warning Signs

Here are some signs that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder and should consider asking for help:

  • Irritability, depression and social withdrawal
  • Thinking or talking a lot about dieting, calories, food or “healthy eating”
  • Frequent negative and intrusive thoughts about weight and shape
  • Eating less due to intense fear of gaining weight
  • Making excuses to avoid eating or skip meals
  • Hiding or getting rid of food when no one is watching
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain (regardless of previous weight)
  • Frequently eating large amounts of food in a short period of time – also known as binging
  • Consuming food alone at night or secretly
  • Using laxatives or diet pills
  • Throwing up after eating
  • Being overly picky with food
  • Weighing and measuring food amounts
  • Missing 2 menstrual periods (if this is relevant for you)
  • Not gaining height when one should be growing
  • Feeling one has to exercise even if you don’t need to

It’s best for a young person to reach out for help ASAP when having unusual or uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or actions towards food and eating. The earlier they reach out, the more likely they will make a full recovery and be able to lead a healthy and happy life.

Take the first step – talk to someone that you trust. This could be a parent, doctor, counsellor, coach, teacher or friend. If you aren’t sure how you are feeling or if you need professional help, remember that you can tell people just a little bit of what you are going through. You might not like or agree with everything they say, but be patient and focus on the fact that they care about you and are doing their best to help you.

If you decide to reach out for professional help, remember that not all treatment providers have a lot of experience with eating disorders. Don’t be discouraged. Try to prepare your story and concerns as best you can when you go to ask for help!

Where to Start

Your family doctor will probably need to support your recovery journey and monitor your health and so starting off with a conversation about how you are feeling is important. You can often ask to see the doctor yourself if you are concerned about being accompanied into your appointment. Just call the receptionist and ask them.

Our partner, EDSNA lists different options for support and treatment and describes options for getting help. Check them out here: Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (edsna.ca) 

They also offer virtual workshops via Kickstand Connect, which you can learn about here. Sign-up for a free, virtual 1:1 mental health counselling or peer support session in the meantime.

National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC) has a helpline open until 9 pm EST (7:00pm MST/Alberta time) – Toll FREE 1-866-633-4220.


Sources: Eating Disorders Q & A – NIEDEating problems (youngminds.org.uk)

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact emergency services (9-1-1) now.