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Eating Disorders – Learn the signs, symptoms and solutions

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), when someone has an eating disorder, their weight is the prime focus and it drives their decision to develop unhealthy eating behaviours. When an individual is experiencing an eating disorder they tend to displace painful emotions or crises that are at the heart of the problem, which can provide a false sense of being in control.

CMHA research shows that anorexia nervosa affects between 0.5 per cent and four per cent of women in Canada and bulimia nervosa affects between one per cent and four per cent of women in Canada. However, binge-eating disorder affects about two per cent of all people in Canada.

Manroop Bal MACP, Registered Psychologist and eating disorder expert at Calgary Counselling Centre, explains that there is a difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating. An eating disorder is a diagnosable psychiatric condition which influences behaviour, physical health and relationships. Disordered eating is often a preliminary behaviour which may lead to an eating disorder, but the behaviours are less severe and frequent.

Types of eating disorders

The three main eating disorders as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating.

Many people assume the first sign of an eating disorder is an individual’s weight. But internal side effects may begin before an individual starts showing symptoms so weight should never be the only consideration.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is the restriction of food intake leading to significantly low body weight. Within anorexia there are two types:

  1. Restricting
  2. Binge-eating/ purging

Symptoms of anorexia include but are not limited to:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Persistent behaviour that interferes with weight gain
  • Disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape is experienced

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is when an individual engages in recurrent episodes of binge-eating and then expels the food consumed after their done.

Some symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Binge-eating
  • Compensatory behaviours – attempting to make up for having eaten and consumed calories and erasing guilt about eating (e.g. self-induced vomiting)
  • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight

Binge-Eating

Binge-eating is when an individual experiences the following behaviours:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts when not physically hungry
  • Eating alone due to feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or guilty after eating

Risk Factors

It is unknown what causes eating disorders, but rather than knowing the cause, we are able to identify the risk factors and focus on prevention.

The following are risk factors that may cause you or your loved ones to become more susceptible to developing an eating disorder:

  1. Family history (families with eating disorders, anxiety disorders or depression)
  2. Interest groups (athletes, models, or dancers etc.)
  3. Age of onset of dieting behaviour (anorexia is more common in adolescents ages 13 to 19, and bulimia is more common in young adults ages 17 to 18)
  4. Gender (more common in females, but still seen in males)
  5. Personality (a perfectionist is at higher risk for anorexia, whereas impulsive individuals are at a higher risk of developing bulimia)
  6. Medical disease (when individual needs a specific diet for a medical disease such as celiac)

Warning Signs

Emotional and behavioural signs of eating disorders are:

  • Considerable weight loss or weight fluctuations
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Preoccupation with food, weight and/or calories
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Yellowish skin
  • Sudden interest in food/ cooking
  • Overly concerned about appearance
  • Moodiness, irritability, depression or numbness
  • Oversensitivity
  • Frequent weighing
  • Hoarding, stealing or hiding food
  • Eating alone
  • Social withdrawal

Medical Complications

If left untreated, eating disorders can have severe medical complications that may include:

  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Fatigue
  • Thinning and/or loss of hair
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
  • Brittle nails and dry skin
  • Decreased concentration
  • Ulcers or gastric perforations
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Counselling and support

Research supports a multi-disciplinary approach to working with eating disorders. Eating disorders can have an effect on physical health, for this reason, the eating disorder programs at Calgary Counselling Centre require clients to connect with their doctor as part of their treatment team.

We also encourage our clients to have a dietitian as part of their treatment team. A dietitian would work with a client to establish healthy eating guidelines and ensure proper nutrition.

At Calgary Counselling Centre, we also have a psychiatrist on-site to treat co-morbidity, which is when there are two chronic disorders or conditions in a client such as anxiety disorder or substance abuse, in addition to an eating disorder.

We offer a counselling group for eating disorders and a workshop for family and friends.

Overcoming Eating Disorders is a 14-week program that will help individuals challenge their thought around food and their body. It will help them understand what is causing their behaviour and give them healthy coping strategies. The group is open to males and females of all ages.

Note: To register for group programs, clients must first have a one-on-one session with their counsellor to assess their individual case and evaluate if the group is a good fit at this time.

Eating Disorders: A Workshop for Family and Friends

At Calgary Counselling Centre, we also provide a specialized workshop for families and friends who have a loved one that is struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, or other disordered eating patterns.

The objectives of the workshop include:

  • Defining an eating disorder
  • Exploring the potential factors impacting the behaviour
  • Exploring what is helpful or harmful when dealing with the eating disorders
  • Providing coping strategies and resource information
  • Sharing experiences of loved ones living with an eating disordered individual.

This workshop is open to anyone, regardless of their connection to Calgary Counselling Centre. You, your family and friends do not have to be a client to attend the workshop.

Support – The Do’s and Don’ts

If a family member or friend is struggling with an eating disorder, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do to support your loved ones.

Do:

  • Be empathetic
  • Validate
  • Assess risks
  • Fight the disorder, not the person
  • Expect denial and/or anger

Don’t:

  • Focus on why
  • Make assumptions
  • Comment on eating behaviour
  • Comment on appearance
  • Comment on your own eating habits

Eating disorders can affect anyone and there is never a wrong time to seek help or support for your physical and emotional health.

To register for counselling or to learn more about our additional services, call 403-691-5991 or click here to schedule an appointment with a counsellor today.

To download a PDF document of the most relevant content from this blog click here.

This blog was updated in October 2018 

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