eating disorder
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Eating is an important ritual that enables us to sustain and nourish ourselves. Unfortunately, often due to external stress, this process can go wayward leading to some very bizarre eating behaviors that can lead to malnutrition or undernourishment, also known as an eating disorder(s). Some of us may tend to consume a large amount of food in a short time, while others may purge them out afterward. Some might eat items that are practically not food at all, while others might be overly preoccupied with eating healthily. 

How do I know if I have an Eating Disorder? 

Eating disorders typically stem from issues related to body image, self-concept, and health concerns, which ironically lead to more health concerns due to malnutrition. 

Only medical and mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists can responsibly diagnose someone with an eating disorder. If you notice that your preoccupation with diet and body image is causing you a lot of difficulties, it is worth consulting a professional for help. Below are some of the more common or identifiable eating disorders as a reference. 

You can read this article to find out if you need to seek mental health help.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is probably the most well-known eating disorder, which is characterized by the preoccupation with being overweight and overly strict food intake. People who suffer from anorexia often believe that they are overweight and try very hard to cut weight, while the reality is that they are more likely to be underweight and are often in denial about that.  

Bulimia Nervosa

Another popular disorder in this category is bulimia nervosa, which is often associated with eating excessively, followed by harmful compensatory behaviors (such as forced vomiting, fasting, and abuse of diuretics and laxatives). This condition is frequently associated with shame and self-criticism, where the cycle of binging and purging often happens in private. 

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder shares a lot of similarity with bulimia nervosa, mainly characterized by excessive food intake, often to relieve emotional pains, but without the compensatory behaviors. 

Pica

Pica is a rare condition mainly characterized by a craving of non-food items. This can be highly subjective, but a general rule of thumb is that food has to have nutritional value, whether it is soda and fried chicken or tea and egg salad. But people with pica will consume items such as dirt, paper, ice, nails, hair, and stone (these are some of the more common examples). Professionals who diagnose such disorders often have to be wary of the context, such as if this behavior comes from cultural influences. 

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia has not been officially documented in the DSM, but it has been gaining greater recognition amongst medical professionals. This disorder happens when one develops an unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating. While most common eating disorders have a preoccupation with the quantity of food they take in, orthorexia nervosa focuses more on the quality and type of food they are consuming. The orthorexic person is often preoccupied with rigid beliefs about ‘eating right’ and the benefits of doing so, which can paradoxically lead to harmful lifestyles if those beliefs are not actually healthy. 

Does obesity count? 

While obesity can be managed with health psychology driven interventions that may include psychotherapy, it is generally not considered an eating disorder. Obesity is often an issue of self-control, while eating disorders commonly have an overwhelming need to control at their core. You can consider psychotherapy to help with your efforts in recovering from obesity, such as figuring out what’s stopping you and what’s within your control. The point here is that obesity is not a condition that psychologists can responsibly diagnose, but they can still be helpful in recovery.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be effectively treated with psychotherapy, where the therapist would work with the beliefs and self-concept (self-image, etc.) that lead to these rigid eating patterns. By understanding the past and present purpose of engaging in these behaviors, therapists can effectively form treatment plans with the client such as accepting themselves, forming healthy beliefs around diets, planning realistic goals and forming healthier habits, and psycho-educating them about the actual dangers of eating disorders. In some cases, the psychotherapist will prefer to work with a medical and nutritional professional to assess the recovery of the client. 

Read this article if you have trouble finding the suitable kind of help (such as whether to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist).

Alternatively, you can also read this article if you don’t know WHERE to find help (such as whether to go to a government hospital or a private center).

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Jia Yue Tan
JY is a counselling trainee at Monash University Malaysia under the Master of Professional Counselling program and writes psychology articles to procrastinate from his counselling paperwork and assignments. His interests are in individual differences, psychotherapy, and helping the public understand psychology(s) as a profession. Occasionally reviews books and promote person-centered psychotherapy.

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