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Food Psychological problems

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Whilst its not uncommon for children to be fussy about what they eat and to go through phases of wanting to control their diet, the development of  food psychological problems or an eating disorder is a very different experience.

Types of eating disorders

Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviours, such as a person obsessively sticking to rigid and constrained diets, secretly bingeing on food, making themselves sick after meals or obsessively counting calories. The reasons the behaviours are so extreme is because they mask painful and destructive self-beliefs that get expressed through the relationship with food.

Although it looks like the food is the problem, the reality is that the difficulty lies in the underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Similarly to other addictions such as drugs, alcohol or self-harm, people with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Controlling and limited food can give a sense of being in control, overeating can distract or temporarily soothe sadness or loneliness and purging or being sick can express very painful feelings of self-loathing or despair.

Challenges faced

One of the biggest challenges with eating disorders is that the perception of the individual often becomes very distorted so that they are no longer able to see themselves clearly and instead see what they believe about themselves, which is why it is common for youngsters who are overly thin to really believe and see themselves as overweight.

The most common types are:

  • Anorexia – which is very controlled or no eating to the point of starvation and extreme thinness
  • Bulimia – which is a cycle of eating and purging
  • Binge eating – which is consuming a high level of calories very rapidly despite feelings of guilt and shame.

Spotting signs

eating disordersIt can be very difficult to spot the early signs of an eating disorder because fads in eating are so common. Commonly, skipping meals or making excuses not to eat are signs that should be noted, as is taking tiny portions and regularly leaving most of the meal on the plate. Equally evidence of bingeing such as empty wrappings or hidden stashes of high calorie foods is another sign to take seriously.

Calorie control behaviours such as obsessive reading of labels, recording of all foods or desires to take slimming pills again are signs to respond to and comments that show evidence of a distorted body image or sudden changes to appearance are also causes for concern.

Taking action

If you do notice any worrying behaviour in your own or other people’s children it’s important to find some way of voicing your concern. Understandably you may feel hesitant to do so for fear of the person feeling judged or that you may have made a mistake, but it is important to remember that people who choose to deal with their anxieties in this way often find it hard to ask for help directly and that left unchecked these behaviours can develop into serious problems.

Find a way to express your concerns about specific times that you’ve noticed, avoid trying to fix the situation but instead create space to hear the young person’s feelings and worries. Acknowledge their bravery in sharing any information with you and avoid criticising what they are doing. The most important thing that you can do for a young person with an eating disorder is to help them to get help. Let them know that they are not on their own, that it is a common way of trying to cope and that there is professional help available.

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About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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