Food can mean comfort, love and family. Food can also bring back associations of happier childhood days or wonderful celebrations yet to come in the future. But sometimes, people develop relationships with food that aren’t at all positive. For people who have eating disorders, food almost always represents pain, and sometimes, it’s difficult for people like this to remember what it was like to simply eat and enjoy.It’s hard to know why eating disorders begin. For some people, a relentless focus on weight and beauty stands behind a restrictive eating pattern, and those habits may have developed in childhood. For others, binging on food seems to bring a release from a temporarily stressful situation, and in time, binging becomes habitual.
Each person who has an eating disorder likely has an origin story that’s just a little different. But no matter how the problem began, treatment can make it better.
People who have these disorders may fall into one of four diagnostic groups:
- Anorexia nervosa, in which the person restricts the amount or type of food eaten.
- Bulimia nervosa, in which the person uses laxatives, vomiting, exercise or some combination of the three to remove any food that has been eaten.
- Binge eating disorder, in which the person eats a huge amount of food in one sitting.
- Eating disorders not otherwise specified, in which people eat in unusual and unhealthy ways that aren’t covered by the other diagnostic labels available.
When people develop a preoccupation with either weight or food, and that obsession grows so strong that the person has difficulty thinking about anything else, an eating disorder is at play.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that this is the most common diagnosis among people who ask for help with their eating habits.
Obviously, someone who restricts calories isn’t going to have the same symptoms as someone who binges on food. Their body types might be quite different, for example, and the debris they leave behind can also be quite variable. But most people who have eating disorders are at least somewhat secretive about their behaviors. They might sneak away after meals to either eat more or purge, for example, or they might wear loose-fitting clothes to either hide weight gain or loss. They might also ask to eat at separate times, so they won’t be subject to family scrutiny around the dinner table.
No matter what signs a person might display on the outside, the eating disorder can do a significant amount of damage far below the skin. People with anorexia, for example, may take in so little food that their hearts are forced to go without water, vitamins and other core nutrients. This vital muscle can simply die as a result. Similarly, people who binge by vomiting can expose the delicate cells inside the throat and mouth to caustic digestive juices, and they can develop bleeding disorders as a result. If left untreated, these sorts of eating disorders can be deadly.
In addition to the physical damage that an eating disorder can cause, many people who have these problems also have other mental health conditions to deal with. They may struggle with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, or they may struggle with the use and abuse of drugs.
Addictions are quite common among people with eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, as about half of all people who struggle with their eating habits also abuse drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes, these abuse issues exist long before the person’s eating habits go astray, but sometimes, the problems develop in tandem. No matter when the addiction develops, it can augment the dangers people face due to eating disorders. Many addictive drugs target the portion of the brain that deals with risk and planning, and these changes can make people prone to making impulsive, disastrous decisions. People with eating disorders might begin to ratchet up their behaviors regarding food, when drugs are in play, and their deaths could come much sooner as a result.
While addictions can make eating disorders much worse, treatment can make both conditions better.
Often, these programs begin with a thorough assessment in which all of the conditions that are impacting the person are diagnosed, and a formal treatment plan is developed. Then, clients begin to work in intense therapy sessions with a trained professional. Often, according to an article produced by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which clients are encouraged to name the thoughts that pop into their heads before they eat or use drugs. Then, clients are provided with skill-building sessions in which they learn how to change their thoughts and the behaviors that follow from those destructive thoughts. It can be amazingly helpful, and it could make a big difference to people with addictions and eating disorders.
If you’d like to know more about how you can tackle your addictions and eating disorders in a safe, luxurious and healing environment, we hope you’ll call us at Axis. We have a full suite of programs that can help you, and we’re accepting new clients now. Please call to find out more.