The National Centre for Eating Disorders state on their website that there are thousands of people suffering from eating disorders who feel they have weight problems and may be obsessed with food and weight. Eating disorders include Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating.
According to the Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are a way of coping with feelings that are making you unhappy or depressed. Concentrating all your attention on food prevents the need to focus on the painful or difficult problems in your life. Eating or not eating becomes the only way of having some control over your life.
As sexual abuse causes very difficult and painful feelings, a way of dealing with this may be to focus on something in your life that you have some power or control over – food. The eating disorder is a way of coping with and/or escaping from difficult feelings that you are experiencing.
There are three main types of eating disorder:
Anorexia is characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though the person is underweight, which is generally accompanied by a distorted body image and an obsession with food and calories. Although the term anorexia means “loss of appetite,” actual loss of appetite is rare among victims of anorexia nervosa. In fact, sufferers can be very hungry indeed.
In severe cases the sufferer may need to go into hospital as this illness can sometimes be fatal. People usually develop Anorexia in their teens or twenties, and are mostly female, although the disorder can affect boys and young men too.
Bulimia is known as the binge-purge syndrome. This eating disorder is characterised by the following:
- Binge eating – this can be described as “eating more than a normal person would eat in a similar period of time” (The National Centre for Eating Disorders website)
- Eating food that the person feels is ‘forbidden’ (e.g. sweets, crisps, chocolate)
- Eating done in secret;
- Strong feelings of shame and anxiety and feeling out of control around food
- Feelings of wanting to pay or compensate for the food that has been eaten.
This is followed by
Purging – this includes behaviours such as:
- Making yourself vomit and/or using laxatives/diuretics
- Strict dieting or starving yourself
- Vigorous exercising usually to try and work off calories the person believes they have gained through over-eating
- Persistent excessive concern with body shape and weight
Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating
This disorder can be described as similar to bulimia, but without the purging. The National Centre for Eating Disorders state that all or some of the following behaviours may be present:
- Regular overeating of foods that the person perceives to be fattening
- A sense of being out of control around food
- Guilt after eating
- Constant thoughts about food and weight
- Attempts to deal with the effects of overeating by starving themselves, dieting or exercising.