Yo-yo dieting and a preoccupation with food are nothing new in our culture. But when does a focus on food, calories and weight become a health concern? In this article we will talk about disordered eating symptoms. If you are concerned about overeating or disordered eating, get in touch to discover how my London hypnotherapy sessions could help you.
Disordered eating explained and its symptoms
Disordered eating is a term used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviours that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, or AN, or bulimia nervosa, or BN, are diagnosed according to specific and narrow criteria. This excludes a majority of people suffering with disordered eating.
Many individuals with disordered eating symptoms are diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS. However, similar to AN or BN, EDNOS has specific criteria that must be met in order for the patient to receive this diagnosis, and that criteria also is narrowing.
Disordered eating symptoms versus an eating disorder
The most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether or not a person’s symptoms and experiences align with the criteria defined by the accepted guidelines. So, really the term “disordered eating” is more of a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. Thus, while many people who have disordered eating patterns may fit the criteria for EDNOS, it is also possible to have disordered eating patterns that do not fit within the current confines of an eating disorder diagnosis.
Still, eating concerns falling short of a diagnosis deserve attention and treatment as they may turn into more problematic eating disorders and put individuals at risk of serious health problems.
Symptoms of disordered eating
Many people that call me to book hypnotherapy sessions in London ask if I think they have disordered eating. Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
Harm caused by disordered eating
Many people who suffer with disordered eating patterns either minimise or do not fully realise the impact it has on their mental and physical health. I see this often with London hypnotherapy clients and sometimes this lack of understanding may unnecessarily exacerbate the harm of disordered eating. Detrimental consequences can include a greater risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression and social isolation. However, please don’t let that worry you, though just remember that these could be the longer term consequences if the eating patterns are not adequately addressed.
Disordered eating can be a serious health concern that may be difficult to detect. This is since a person with disordered eating patterns may not display all of the classic symptoms typically identified with eating disorders. As I see at my London hypnotherapy clinic , it’s important to remember that even a person exhibiting disordered eating habits and behaviours also may be experiencing significant physical, emotional and mental stress.
Registered dietitians can often play a role in the detection and treatment of disordered eating. This will normally be alongside psychological input from therapists. A medical approach is helpful to ensure good physical health is maintained.
Often, patients referred to dietitians for nutrition counselling are unaware that their eating patterns are problematic or harmful. As well as sessions of hypnotherapy, clients might work with a dietitian who has a background in counselling patients with eating disorders. This can be a helpful step in treating disordered eating and preventing it from progressing to an eating disorder.
What Is an eating disorder?
Now we have spoken about disordered eating, let’s take a look at eating disorders. An eating disorder is any of a range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. This pattern of eating leads to disruption in someone’s behaviours, thinking, and mood. It also negatively impacts interpersonal relationships, study, work, and physical health.
Eating Disorder Symptoms can include:
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Musculoskeletal injuries and pain from excessive exercise
- Dental erosions from self-induced vomiting
- Chronic constipation, gastroesophageal reflux, and other gastrointestinal problems
- Chapped lips and gray skin
- Fainting spells from malnutrition and dehydration
- Hair loss
- Markedly low blood pressure and pulse
- Prone to upper respiratory infections
- Low energy
- Overall poor health
Someone with an eating disorder will continue these behaviours despite physical and personal consequences. This may be caused by any number of factors and serve any number of purposes, but whatever the reason behind the eating disorder, these actions are harmful and can result in significant functional impairment, even leading to death in extreme cases.
Seven eating disorder warning signs
While eating disorder behaviours can vary from person to person, here are some common warning signs to watch out for, including:
1. Alterations in Weight
If the person weighs less than 85 percent of their ideal body weight and exhibits other characteristic signs of an eating disorder, they can be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Someone can still be close to, at, or even above their ideal body weight and have an eating disorder. This is common in those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, marked by binging and purging.
2. Preoccupation With Body Image
Do you know someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror, makes negative comments about her physical appearance and insists that they are overweight? That behavior alone doesn’t necessarily constitute an eating disorder, but if they become preoccupied with certain celebrities and models, compare themselves unfavorably to them, or wear baggy clothing to hide their body shape, these actions can be cause for concern.
3. Disruptions in Eating Patterns
You may notice that someone stops eating with the family, dislikes previously enjoyed foods, is preoccupied with counting calories and fat grams, drinks excessive amounts of water and caffeine to suppress their appetite, eats noticeably smaller portions, or refuses to eat at all. Or maybe they start bingeing on certain foods and going to the bathroom immediately after meals to vomit what they just ate. Also be on the lookout for newly developed eating rituals such as chewing for long periods before swallowing, cutting food into small portions, moving food around on the plate, or hiding food in a napkin to dispose of later.
4. Preoccupation With Nutritional Content
A dedication to eating nutritious food is admirable, but if someone you know begins to classify foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, safe or unsafe, and is constantly searching out organic, low-fat diet foods, frequently visits websites focused on nutrition, or suddenly declares they are vegetarian or vegan, this, in conjunction with other behaviours, could be a sign that they need help.
5. Changes in Exercise Patterns
Another warning sign is when someone becomes preoccupied with physical fitness, spends hours exercising in a ritualistic way, talks excessively about the number of calories they’ve burned, or gets upset if their exercise routine is disrupted.
6. Mood Fluctuations
As an eating disorder gains momentum, it may lead to signs of irritability, depression, and anxiety, causing the individual to stop socializing and lose interest in previously enjoyed activities.
7. Use of Laxatives, Diuretics, or Diet Pills
There is tremendous pressure on young girls and women today to look a certain way, but when they are willing to risk their health to achieve an unhealthy standard, resorting to laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills, that can be a sign they need help.