Less Common Forms of Eating Disorders

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

What about the “less common” types of eating disorder?

A guide to recognizing and managing them

In a recent post (HERE), I wrote about how parents can recognise early warning signs of common Eating Disorders and then, how they can respond constructively. But as is often the case when Eating Disorders are discussed, I made the mistake of only focusing on the two most common ones – Anorexia and Bulimia.

Quite rightly, a reader politely asked if I could address the other types of disordered eating; and so here I return to the topic and focus on the slightly different presentations that can also be problematic.

In addition to Anorexia and Bulimia, disordered eating can come in several other forms including:

  • Binge Eating Disorder – characterised by recurrent episodes of binge eating, at least weekly, and for at least several months
  • Atypical forms of Anorexia or Bulimia or Binge Eating – these do not meet “formal diagnostic criteria” or may be different in some way from the “classic” presentations but are, nevertheless, distressing and disturbing
  • Orthorexia – characterised by an obsession with a “pure” or “clean” diet and an aversion to what are perceived to be “unhealthy” foods
  • And then there are a range of body dissatisfaction disorders where eating might not be that problematic per se, but where the individual is so highly dissatisfied with their body shape or size that they suffer extreme levels of distress and where their life is affected in some significant way (e.g. avoiding swimming or going to the beach or wearing certain types of clothes)

For more information – visit the very useful Butterfly Foundation website HERE

But if we ignore the specific diagnoses listed above and in my previous article, in general terms the following behaviours can be considered examples of disordered eating:

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating
  • Skipping meals
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as ‘fatty’ foods or carbohydrates)
  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
  • Steroid and/or drug use – supplements designed to enhance athletic performance and alter physical appearance
  • Using diet pills

Similarly, if one’s perception of one’s body causes so much distress that it interferes with normal personal and social activities, then this could be considered “abnormal” or at the very least, unhelpful.

So, what can we do about any of this?

Well firstly, it’s important to recognise that any or all of the above are unhelpful and in the long term, unhealthy. Without this first step of recognition, no steps will be taken to create change.

Secondly, if one accepts that one’s behaviours are unhealthy, then taking steps towards more healthy behaviours of eating and living should become the goal.

For some, this might be as simple as slowly and gradually making adjustments to eating routines, and to the types and varieties of foods consumed, with the aim of eventually returning to more normal patterns.

For others, however, it might be necessary and helpful to seek expert support. In these cases, the following professionals should be considered:

  • Most General Practitioners will be in a good position to assess a person’s current health status and make recommendations about who and what will be necessary
  • In addition, specific dietary advice may well be helpful from a qualified accredited practising dietitian (see HERE)
  • And finally, when an individual needs to make real and meaningful changes to long term, unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving, then an expert in behaviour change such as a Clinical Psychologist should also be considered

In conclusion, we should focus on learning to love and appreciate our bodies for what they can do, not what shape they are or how many kilograms they weigh. And similarly, we should love and enjoy food and eating for the sustenance it provides and for how it allows us to connect and spend quality time with family and friends. If we’re not enjoying our bodies or our meals, then it might be time to make some changes so we can!

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

Category:Mental Health

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