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Counselling for Eating Disorders
Are you struggling with an eating disorder? We are here for you.
It is common for people to focus on their weight, try out diets, or indulge a little too much from time to time. However, for some people, their preoccupation with food and weight can be a sign of a more serious problem.
Eating disorders are serious and even life-threatening conditions that affect food and eating behaviours. People of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience disordered eating.
Many people hide their eating disorders or live with their symptoms for years before seeking help. If you think you might have an eating disorder, book a consultation with one of our mental health specialists who can help you find relief from this difficult condition.
What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are not just about food. They often represent a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult feelings or to regain a sense of control. Eating disorders affect your identity, self-worth, and self-esteem.
People with eating disorders can have a variety of symptoms, with severity ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms most commonly include severe restriction of food, binging, or purging behaviours like vomiting or over-exercising. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.
Anorexia is probably the most well-known eating disorder. It usually develops in the teen years and can continue into adulthood.
People with anorexia usually view themselves as overweight, even if they’re seriously underweight. It is common to constantly monitor weight, avoid eating certain foods, over-exercise, and severely restrict their calories.
Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
Being underweight for age and height
Restricted eating patterns
Intense fear of gaining weight
Persistent behaviours to avoid gaining weight
Episodes of binge-eating and purging
Sense of self-worth focused on weight
It is common for people with anorexia also to have symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessions are often food-themed, and it is common to have rituals and compulsions surrounding eating, weighing oneself, and even collecting recipes or pictures of food.
Anorexia can be very damaging to the body, leading to the weakening of bones, infertility, brittle hair and nails, and the growth of a layer of fine hair all over their body. Even in the presence of physical symptoms and low body weight, people with anorexia often still see themselves as overweight and engage in behaviour to “fix it.”
In severe cases, anorexia can result in multi-organ failure and death.
Similar to anorexia, bulimia often begins in adolescence or early adulthood and can continue into adulthood. Unlike anorexia, people experiencing bulimia usually maintain relatively normal body weight.
People with bulimia frequently binge on large amounts of food in a short amount of time, followed by purging. Binges are often accompanied by zoning out or a lack of control. The food used during binges is most commonly unhealthy foods that the person would typically avoid.
Purging is done in an attempt to rid the body of the calories consumed and alleviate any discomfort from fullness. Common purging behaviours include forced vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise, diuretics, emetics, and enemas.
Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
Recurrent binge eating episodes
Feeling one cannot stop or control the amount of food consumed
Recurrent compensatory behaviours to prevent weight gain (i.e., vomiting)
Sense of self-worth focused on weight
Fear of gaining weight
The purging behaviours associated with bulimia can cause significant health issues such as tooth decay, acid reflux, severe dehydration, and hormonal disturbances.
Purging often creates an imbalance in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. In severe cases, bulimia can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is a prevalent eating disorder. It typically begins during the teen years but can develop at any time.
People with binge eating disorder eat substantial amounts of food in short periods. There is a feeling of lack of control or an inability to stop during these binges. Unlike the above eating disorders, people with binge eating disorder do not restrict food or engage in compensatory behaviours like forced vomiting or excessive calories after binging.
Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:
Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time
Eating in secret
Eating until uncomfortably full
Binging even when not feeling hungry
Lack of control during episodes of binging
Feelings of shame, disgust, or guilt when thinking about binge-eating behaviour
No use of purging behaviours, such as vomiting, calorie restriction, or excessive exercise
Many people with binge eating disorder are overweight, but it also occurs in people of average weight. When untreated, binge eating disorder can be severe, debilitating, and even life-threatening.
Other Types of Eating Disorders
There are several types of eating disorders that can significantly impair a person’s life.
Pica: eating or craving non-food things like dirt, chalk, or hair.
Rumination Disorder: Voluntarily regurgitating food after eating it and then either re-chewing and swallowing or spitting it out.
Purging Disorder: Engaging in purging behaviours, such as vomiting or excessive exercise, but no binging behaviours.
Orthorexia: Obsessive behaviour around healthy eating, which leads to severely limiting foods. Compliance with diet rules is the main focus of this condition.
Chewing and Spitting: Disordered eating where the person chews the food and spits it out in an attempt not to absorb the calories or relieve tension.
Diabulimia: People with type 1 diabetes who skip injections to lose weight.
Will My Eating Disorder Go Away if I Don’t Seek Help?
Eating disorders may fluctuate in their severity at different times and even reduce over time. However, it is very rare for the disordered pattern of behaviours surrounding food and image to subside without intervention. The earlier you seek treatment for your eating disorder, the better your outcome.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
There is no single cause of eating disorders. One factor that may contribute to disordered eating is cultural pressure to be thin and unrealistic beauty standards. In general, the development of eating disorders is complex and may occur due to a combination of factors such as:
Family history: You are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder if you have a family member with disordered eating, depression, or anxiety disorders.
Exposure to Trauma: Trauma experienced in childhood, such as physical or sexual abuse, can increase your likelihood of developing an eating disorder. You may also develop an eating disorder after experiencing major life changes, stress, or trauma later in life.
Biochemical Factors: Eating disorders may be associated with dysfunction in brain areas associated with feeling full, which may play an important role in binge-eating. Chemical imbalances such as low serotonin and hormone imbalances also appear to contribute to eating disorders.
Psychological Factors: Having traits such as perfectionism, body image dissatisfaction, anxiety, and rigid thinking can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Environmental Factors: Characteristics of your environment may increase your risk of eating disorders or make symptoms worse. Some environmental risks include teasing, difficult relationships, a history of dieting, poor support system, instability, and daily stress. People who participate in sports like ballet, gymnastics, or wrestling that focus on body mass may also have an increased risk.
Eating disorders are complicated and develop over time. It is more than just a diet and can feel like it has taken over your life. It is important to remember that developing an eating disorder is not a sign of weakness, and it can happen to anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Receiving clinical intervention for your disordered eating is imperative to managing symptoms and improving your life.
How Does Counselling & Therapy Work for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can be treated with counselling, medications, or both. In severe cases, people may benefit from hospitalization or out-patient treatment at specialized facilities.
Therapy is one of the most effective treatments for building long-lasting strategies to help you manage your eating disorder. Therapy is not a temporary fix as it will teach you how to handle difficult emotions and adopt healthy coping mechanisms. Therapy will help you redefine your relationship with yourself and with food.
Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are beneficial for the treatment of eating disorders. CBT is also helpful for anxiety and depression, which often accompany these conditions. Many of the ways we interpret events and deal with our problems can be unhelpful or even harmful to our well-being. In CBT, your therapist will work with you to identify any negative thinking or behavioural patterns and help you learn more helpful ways of viewing your world and tackling your problems.
Counselling for Eating Disorders in Toronto & Vaughan
As the leading counseling service provider in Vaughan & Toronto, we pride ourselves on offering a team of therapists dedicated to assisting you in gaining a deeper understanding of your present obstacles and equipping you with practical strategies to overcome them. Our comprehensive services include state-of-the-art counseling and coaching for individuals, families, and couples.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out today for help. We can help you find freedom from a relationship with food that’s kept you trapped.