Eating Disorders

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

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

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.

Anxiety

The feelings that you get when you are anxious are similar to those of feeling afraid or frightened. This means that you may get physical symptoms such as sweating, quickened heart beat, or ‘butterflies’ in your stomach.

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Drugs/Alcohol

Some people who have been affected by sexual abuse or rape may use alcohol or street drugs as a way of coping with the painful feelings they are left with. Often, it can be a way of blocking out what happened and all the terrible thoughts and feelings.

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Anger

Anger can be a frightening emotion but if dealt with properly can be a healthy one. People that have been abused have a right to be angry.  If you have feelings of anger that you find overwhelming it is important you get some help.

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Nightmares

Nightmares and Flashbacks – A flashback is like reliving a distressing event that may have happened recently or many years ago. Many people who have been sexually abused or raped experience flashbacks. They can be triggered by a place, a smell or even a sound.

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Depression

If you are feeling different to your usual self, are not interested in the things you used to be interested in, feel sad a lot of the time you may be depressed. There are lots of different feelings linked with depression and they are unique to each person.

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Guit and Shame

Should I feel guilty because I didn’t stop the abuse? No, even though it is very common for people who have been sexually abused to feel this way. When an adult sexually abuses a child, they are using their power over you to make you do things they know are wrong.

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