For our approaches to treatment of eating disorders, please see psychotherapy
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders of which there is no simple or singular cause. They can start or become coping strategies for difficulties in life. An eating disorder often begins withe a period of dieting and can spiral out of control to encompass much of a person’s life, affecting thoughts, feelings, behavior, relationships, career, self-esteem and physical health. Because they affect so much of a person’s life and health, it can be difficult to find one’s way out (recover) from an ED without help.
Who is at risk?
Eating disorders can affect anybody at almost any age. Although they most often begin in adolescence or young adulthood, children, middle age women and men are becoming increasingly affected. In our practice at Thornhill Therapy, we have worked with those who maintain high powered careers or acheive academic success while struggling with an eating disorder, as well as those who have not been able to work, attend school and who have needed periods of hospitalization due to its mental and physical effects. We have worked with men and women, in their teens or in their fifties, born to families that have been in Canada for generations or families new to Canada. We have seen people who were raised in supportive, caring, families and those that have suffered a history of abuse or neglect. Many clients have had to contend with either difficult life experiences, emphasis on weght and shape in either their family, comunuity or job, interpersonal concerns, low self-esteem, anxiety or depression. Finally, in our culture, one that often equates a person’s value with the way they look, and that look is unrealistically thin, we are all at risk. And girls especially so, as they are particularly vulnerable during this period in which their sense of self-worth, and sense of who they are, is still developing.
What are the main types of eating disorders?
Below is a listing of the types of eating disorders and very brief descriptions. Please refer to the excellent websites listed below for more detailed intormation. Keep in mind that eating disorders can change over time, with symptoms and behaviours shifting form one to another without treatment.
Anorexia Nervosa -An individual struggling with anorexia cannot eat enough to maintain a minimally healthy body weight and is intensely afraid of gaining weight. Body image is often distorted so that one feels fat even if severely underweight. In addition to food restriction, some individuals suffer with binge eating episodes and/or purging through vomitting, laxative abuse or compulsive exercise. Anorexia causes hormonal changes and other physical changes leading to loss of menstrual cycle, low bone density, cardiac symptoms and other severe and damaging health effects.
Bulimia Nervosa – The individual struggling with bulimia experiences a dysregulation of their eating so that they experience out- of -control overeating (binge eating). Due to worries about resulting weight gain, they resort to using a variety of dangerous or unhealthy methods to compensate such as self-induced vomitting, laxative abuse, over-exercise, extreme dietiing or fasting. Low self-esteem or stress may have triggered the onset of the symptoms, which often start in adolescence or young adulthood. Shame and low self-esteem about the bulimia can keep it going. Although bulimia does not lead to extreme low weight, it can cause severe emotional and physical health consequnces. These can include electrolyte imbalances that can affect the heart, damage to teeth and throat, and depression and anxiety.
Binge Eating Disorder – The individual struggling with Binge Eating Disorder experiences regular episodes of out-of-contol overeating (binge eating) and possibly overeating as well. The result of this can lead to feelings of shame, eating in isolation, rapid eating, eating until uncomfortably full or eating although one is not hungry. This eating disorder often leads to weight gain which in turn affects self-esteem, and can increase anxiety about health and body image. Common consequences include the health risks of obesity, depression and low self-esteem.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) – Often eating disorder symptoms do not fall exactly into the diagnostic catagories outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the manual that physicians use that standardizes diagnostic criteria). OSFED is used when eating symptoms are severe but do not follow the specific diagnostic catagories for the other eating disorders. This name replaces the name “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” in the newest version of the DSM (DSM-5).
Eating Disorder Related Concerns– Many people have psychological concerns that share simiarities to eating disorders such as body image concerns, overeating or weight preoccupation. These are of an individual nature and do not carry the extreme health risks but can still interfere with one’s life, happiness and health and lead to anxiety, lowered self-esteem, chronic dieting, and undue mental preoccupation with with one’s appearance, weight or shape. Therapy can be very helpful to those experiencing these concerns.
For Some Helpful Websites and Resources Click Here