Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, diet and exercise

It is not uncommon to alter what, how much or when you eat or the amount of exercise you do. In the majority of cases changes in eating and exercise habits are no cause for concern. There are however some eating and exercise patterns that can be damaging to your emotional and physical health. If this becomes the case, you need to think carefully about what you are doing AND why you are doing it.

When do diet and exercise pattern become a problem?

Problems with diet and exercise start when they are used to help you to deal with difficult emotions or experiences. Your use of food and exercise in this way may be subconscious, in which case, how do you know that it is a problem?

You may be aware of what you are doing but be unsure as to why you are doing it. You may not even be aware that your eating and exercise patterns are unusual. Friends and family are often the first ones to notice. If you or someone you know thinks that your eating and exercise patterns are becoming a problem ask yourself; ‘are my habits adversely affecting the way that I live my life’ Are they stopping you from socialising, affecting your mood and relationships, making you feel tired and unmotivated, preventing you from concentrating or performing at your best?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your exercise and eating patterns ARE becoming a problem.

Who might be affected?

Eating disorders are most commonly caused by a combination of difficult or distressing events and emotions; academic stress, pressure to achieve, a sudden change in lifestyle, low self-esteem, feelings of loneliness or a specific traumatic event. These factors can affect people of any gender, race or culture at any point in their life.

During your time as a student you are likely to experience stresses and problems associated with academic study and living on your own, often for the first time. Combine this with a traumatic event or financial concerns and it is no wonder you may find it difficult to cope sometimes. Using diet or exercise may help you to feel more in control for a while but after a time, the eating disorder that once helped you, will start to control your life and stop you from doing what you want to do. Whoever you are, if you feel that exercise and food are controlling your life then get in touch with us and we can see you on a one to one basis or come along to the support group.

Eating disorders in men

Eating disorders are generally viewed as an illness that affects females. A survey carried out by Beat in February 2000 revealed that 10% of sufferers were, in fact, men. Despite this, symptoms of eating disorders such as weight loss, increased rate of injury and tiredness, which would raise concern amongst women, in men are attributed to other causes.

Men are just as likely to be affected by the issues and concerns that cause eating disorders and should not feel ashamed or embarrassed if they are experiencing problems with their diet and exercise patterns. If you are concerned by your eating and exercise patterns, or have a known eating disorder, Biteback are there to help you. The service is totally confidential and can direct you to the other help available around Sheffield.

How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders will vary from one person to the next. If you are suffering from an eating disorder you may relate to one or more of the following comments.

  • I am constantly preoccupied by thoughts of food and body image.
  • I prefer to eat alone and make excuses if I am invited out for a meal.
  • I become anxious and irritable around food.
  • I find it difficult to decide what, how much and when to eat.
  • Eating makes me feel guilty and out of control.
  • I become depressed and anxious if I am unable to exercise or control what goes into my meals.
  • I become angry when people make comments about my eating habits.
  • My diet has become less varied.
  • What I eat is based more on how I am feeling than on what my body needs to survive.
  • Exercising excessively, restricting my food intake, binging or purging after eating helps me to cope with my emotions and makes me feel more in control of my life.
  • I eat/exercise when I am anxious, stressed or upset.
  • I lie about what I eat and/or how much exercise I do.
  • I have low self-esteem and often feel worthless.

Whether you relate to these comments or not if your diet and exercise regime, and your thoughts surrounding food and exercise, are having a negative impact on your life, you have a problem that with the right help and support can be overcome.

What Might Be Causing My Eating Disorder?

When you know that your eating and exercise patterns are having a negative impact on your health and well-being it can be difficult and frustrating to understand why you continue to follow them. Why can’t you just eat normally or have a day off exercise? Unfortunately it is not that simple.

Eating disorders are not determined by what you eat or how much exercise you do but by how you are feeling and, more specifically, how you are using food and exercise to cope with or control difficult emotions. Your diet and exercise patterns may be used to diagnose you with a specific type of eating disorder but it is important to remember that these patterns are not the cause of problem.

It may help you to view your eating or exercise patterns as symptoms; in the same way as aching limbs are a symptom of the flu, your eating and exercise patterns are likely to be symptoms of much deeper, underlying issues. You are unlikely to be able to change your eating habits or how much exercise you do without confronting the underlying emotional causes.

The underlying problem is likely to be down to a combination of factors; circumstances, specific events and life changes that, when combined, have made you feel that you are out of control or struggling to cope. The exact problem and how you use food and exercise to help to deal with this will be individual to you; it is something that you need to identify and work to understand with the help of your friends, family and professionals.

How Will My Physical Health Be Affected?

It is important to recognise that what and how much you are eating and what exercise you are doing may be having adverse affects on your long and short-term health.

If you would like to discuss concerns over your health the best person to see is your GP. If you do not feel that you can do this e-mail info@syeda.org.uk and we will do what we can to answer any questions.

Will I Recover?

Recovering from an eating disorder is not easy but it can be done. It is a much less frightening if you have the support of your friends and family and if you have guidance from professionals. Biteback’s advice is to get as much help and support as you can. We understand that seeking help can be hard but it is never as scary as it first seems and it is worth it.