Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious, biologically influenced illnesses. If left untreated, eating disorders have a devastating impact on affected individuals and their loved ones. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

Learning more about the causes of eating disorders, different types of disordered eating, and recognising the damage caused by common myths and misconceptions regarding eating disorders will help you start to understand what’s going on with your loved one and put you in a position to help them recover.

Many people believe eating disorders are simply a case of a diet taken too far. It is now known that although cultural and environmental factors have an impact, genetics play a significant role. Studies have shown that 50-80% of the risk for developing an eating disorder comes from genetics.

Specialists now recognise that in vulnerable individuals an eating disorder is usually triggered by a period of the body receiving inadequate nutrition. This nutritional deficit may be deliberate, or unintentional – for example dieting, illness, certain medications, sports training as well as trauma can be enough to trigger a disorder in a person with a genetic predisposition.

Most people can restrict their diet for a time without risk, but for those predisposed, a period of restriction can trigger physiological, neurobiological and emotional alterations that cascade into a life-threatening eating disorder.

The high value that our society places on appearance, the vilification of weight, and admiration of extreme thinness has resulted in dieting being a normalised behavior. For vulnerable individuals dieting is the “gateway drug” to an eating disorder.

Currently, eating and feeding disorders specified in the DSM include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Pica
  • Rumination Disorder
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Other specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)
Anorexia

If you think you or a loved one may have anorexia, look out for these warning signs.

Changes to behavior

  • Skipping meals or refusing to eat
  • Being secretive around food
  • Cutting out all ‘unhealthy’ foods or eating a limited number of foods
  • Making excuses for not eating and denying hunger
  • Rigid rituals around food, such as cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Weighing and measuring food
  • Drinking a lot of water or chewing gum constantly
  • Cooking for others but refusing to eat
  • Frequently weighing and checking themselves in the mirror
  • Excessive exercise
  • Purging or vomiting
  • Wearing baggy or layered clothing
  • Frequent complaints about feeling fat, full, or bloated
  • Constant preoccupation with food

Psychological changes

  • Distorted perception – a wide gap between self-image and actual appearance
  • Difficulty concentrating, restlessness or hyperactivity, forgetfulness
  • Poor judgement
  • Denial or refusing to acknowledge the severity of the problem
  • Obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Depression – loss of interest in friends and activities, lack of spontaneity, lack of initiative, flattened emotional responses,
  • irritability, insomnia, and diminished interest in sex.
  • Changes in personality or mood swings

Physical changes

  • Unusually thin appearance (not always dramatic or noticeable)
  • Absence of periods in girls and women
  • Fatigue, dizziness or fainting
  • Brittle nails, hair thinning, breaking or falling out
  • Soft, downy hair covering the body
  • Constipation and abdominal pain, bloating
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Abnormal blood count
  • Irregular heart rhythms, low pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of bone mass

The first step is visiting your GP and asking for a referral to Lois Bridges Eating Disorders Treatment Centre.

Bulimia Nervosa

If you think you or a loved one may have Bulimia Nervosa, look out for these warning signs.

Changes to behavior

  • Excessive desire for privacy in the bathroom or bedroom
  • Unexpected absences (walks or drives)
  • Evidence of laxative or diuretic use
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating with others
  • Sudden dietary changes
  • Obsessive eating – cutting food into very small pieces, chewing excessively, separating different types of food on plate
  • Eating unusually large amounts of food without gaining weight
  • Food disappearing, large numbers of empty food wrappers or containers in the rubbish
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Shoplifting or spending large amounts on food
  • Excessive or rigid exercise regimes
  • Going to the bathroom after meals
  • Use of mints or gum to cover the smell of vomit
  • Running water to cover the sound of vomiting
  • Wearing baggy or layered clothing

Psychological changes

  • Preoccupation with body weight and dieting
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem, shame and guilt
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Emotional behaviour and mood swings

Physical changes

  • Frequent changes to weight
  • Sore throat, tooth decay and bad breath
  • Rounder face caused by swollen salivary glands
  • Poor skin
  • Irregular periods
  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • Swollen or red marks on the fingers or knuckles that may be used to stimulate the gag reflex

The first step is visiting your GP and asking for a referral to Lois Bridges Eating Disorders Treatment Centre.

Binge Eating Disorder

BED is characterised by recurrent episodes of binging, or extreme overeating.

Binging occurs when a person eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time, and is usually marked by a lack of control.

On average, Binge Eating Disorder is diagnosed when a person has an episode at least once a week for at least three months.

People with binge eating disorder may eat very quickly, even if they’re not hungry. They often feel guilt and embarrassment about their eating, which leads to binging alone to hide the behaviour.

If you think your loved one is showing signs of binge eating disorder, it’s time to get help.

The first step is visiting your GP and asking for a referral to Lois Bridges Eating Disorders Treatment Centre.

Avoidant / Restrictive food intake disorder

Warning signs of ARFID:

  • Trouble eating or digesting specific types of food
  • Only eating very small portions
  • Eating very slowly
  • Avoiding particular types, textures, or colours of food
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fear of eating – can be caused as a result of choking or vomiting previously

The first step is visiting your GP and asking for a referral to Lois Bridges Eating Disorders Treatment Centre.

Eating disorders don’t always fall into neat categories. People with disorders that don’t meet the criteria for a specific disorder may be diagnosed as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) or Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED).

If a person is diagnosed with OSFED, they have an eating issues which don’t quite fit the criteria for any one disorder. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem. For example, they may meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa but continue to menstruate, regularly purge without binge eating, or binge eat very infrequently.

UFED, on the other hand, is usually used when a patient clearly suffers from disordered eating patterns, but medical professionals don’t have all the information they need to make a diagnosis.

Although Orthorexia hasn’t been classified by DSM-V, it is recognised as an issue with links to eating disorders. Orthorexia is described as an extreme obsession with eating healthy food and avoiding “unhealthy” food. Sufferers may restrict their eating more and more as the disorder progresses. Left untreated, or combined with other risk factors, Orthorexia can progress into a full-blown eating disorder.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders are serious, whether anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any of the other categories. All eating disorders have physical and psychological risks, and they can all be very dangerous if left untreated.

The first step is visiting your GP and asking for a referral to Lois Bridges Eating Disorders Treatment Centre.

Testimonials from our clients

I am so happy with my decision to come here. All the therapists are so helpful and understanding. They each understand Eds better than any other medical professional I have ever seen.

Female, 30 year old client 

All journeys must begin with a single step - Call us on (01) 839 6147

Contact Us

Whether you are a client, family member or professional - do not hesitate to contact Lois Bridges 

info@loisbridges.ie

(01) 839 6147, Fax (01) 839 6959

3 Greenfield Road, Sutton, Dublin 13