Eating Disorders

What is an eating disorder?

Food is a major part of life. It is present in almost every area of our lives and serves as a tool to connect us to friends, family, coworkers and our culture. In almost all social settings, we gather around food. We use food to celebrate, console and connect. This necessary part of life goes beyond just fueling our bodies. Tastes and smells are encoded into our memories. When traveling, trying new restaurants and exploring local cuisine is on almost everyone’s to-do list. We watch television shows about it, we read books about it, we even create art with food. On a more basic level, we rely on food to provide our body with the nutrients needed to function. Simply put, food is unavoidable. Luckily, most people are able to enjoy food and embrace this part of life.

Imagine, however, if instead of those positive experiences with food, food felt like the enemy. Imagine if food no longer was a joyous, tasty or satisfying experience. Try to think about what it would be like if every bite was being calculated by your mind, tracked, monitored, limited, and obsessed over. Each bite of food playing over in your mind, breaking down the components to decipher if today is a “good” or “bad” day. Imagine if your identity, your success, your worth, your entire being was defined by what you did or didn’t eat. Food takes on a new meaning and the only things that matter are the number on the scale or the size of your jeans. You develop rules that you need to follow and try to avoid food at all costs. Food is no longer a part of socializing, you avoid any social situation that may involve eating. Your life becomes smaller and smaller and food takes up most of your thoughts…

This sounds like a nightmare.

For people who struggle with an eating disorder, food no longer is fun. Food is the other four letter “F” word. An eating disorder consumes a person’s mind. It is a battle that many people face in private, fearful to disclose their inner struggle. Feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust accompany these thoughts and food becomes the enemy. For some, food becomes their secret release, eating in private to enjoy as much as their bodies will tolerate. For others, food is something to avoid at all costs. There are different forms of eating disorders but all share a common element. An excessive and irrational value is placed on food and this may feel impossible to control.

Lucky there is help.

Recovery from an eating disorder is challenging. It takes a lot of work and there are often ups and downs along the way. For those struggling with an eating disorder, I want you to know, full recovery is possible. It is possible to free yourself from the obsessive thoughts and stop being controlled by what you eat. It is possible to develop a positive relationship with food, your body, and your weight. It is possible to enjoy eating without feeling guilty about it. Recovery is possible, and it is worth it.

So… what are eating disorders?

An eating disorder is DEFINITION

The most common eating disorders are:

Anorexia

People with anorexia are consumed with thoughts about weight, calories, numbers and size. Most commonly, distorted body image accompanies the weight loss. A person with anorexia may be severely malnourished but perceive themselves to be “overweight.” An intense fear accompanies this distorted perception and over time, more and more foods are labeled as “bad” or “forbidden.” The person is unwilling or unable to gain/maintain a body weight within an age/height appropriate range and severely restricts intake to prevent weight restoration from occurring.

Severe medical consequences. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

Bulimia

People who are bulimic engage in episodes of binge eating, or eating an extremely large amount of food (significantly more than the average person would be able to consume in a similar setting), and then follow the binge eating with behaviors to eliminate the food or calories consumed. During the episode of eating, the person typically feels out of control. The elimination, or compensatory behavior, is believed to be the only way to regain control. Methods of compensation include self induced vomiting, laxative abuse, over exercise, restricting intake, or other methods of preventing/counteracting weight gain. Mood swings, anger, irritability, difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, and social isolation often accompany these episodes.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common of eating disorders in the United States, though this disorder was only given it’s own classification/diagnosis in the most recent DSM published in 2013. Previously these behaviors were considered under the category of Eating Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified which made it difficult for many people to seek the treatment they needed. Binge Eating Disorder is when a person recurrently eats an abnormally large amount of food within a short period of time, past the point of physical fullness, and feels a loss of control over their behavior during this time. A person with Binge Eating Disorder does not engage in compensatory behaviors, but does feel a similar sense of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about the binge episode. During the binge episode, the person eats more rapidly than normal, often eating alone or in secret out of embarrassment about their consumption, and may lose track of time, amount of food, or other obligations when engaging in a binge. Many people misunderstand binge eating disorder and believe that all people who are obese fit into this category. This is incorrect, and though many people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese, it is possible to have this disorder and be in a normal weight range. Additionally, many people who are obese do not have binge eating disorder.

Orthorexia

A person with orthorexia likely started their illness with the best intentions and a focus on health. This disorder is characterized by an extreme and obsessive need to eat “clean” or “healthy” foods and an intense fear of food that is not “healthy.” This obsession with clean eating consumes the person’s mind and interferes with daily functioning. There is often trouble concentrating in school, reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities, withdrawal from social activity, and a preoccupation with food that takes over every free moment. Orthorexia has many similarities to anorexia, however, there is less concern about body image and weight, and more obsession about food quality and content (macro-nutrients). A person with orthorexia may acknowledge their weight loss and even dislike their body at a very low weight, but the fear about eating something “unhealthy” prevents them from maintaining a balanced diet. Traits similar to what is seen in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are present and rituals around eating commonly develop. This obsession leads to malnutrition and the person is at risk of serious health consequences due to this.

Diabulimia
ARFID

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake

OSFED

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Though Eating Disorders are highly complex and potentially dangerous illnesses, help is available.

Full recovery is possible.

You can live a life without the rules, guilt, shame, and health consequences associated with having an eating disorder. It is possible to have a positive relationship with food and with your body.

Whether you are battling an eating disorder; disordered eating; or simply a preoccupation with weight, calories, body size or food; talking openly about your thoughts, feelings, and struggles can ease some of the pain.

logo | Toni Falcone, Psy.D. | Licensed Psychologist | Anxiety & Eating Disorders |  Fort Lauderdale Florida

2601 E Oakland Park Blvd Ste 502
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306

contact@tonifalconepsyd.com
(954) 693-6446

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