People need food to live, yet most of us have a relationship with food which is not just about survival. It is common to experiment with food at some time in our lives such as becoming vegetarian. Food choices may be linked to a faith system like kosher or halal, or a medical condition such as gluten free.
Most of us have the occasional biscuit or chocolate as a reward. However some people have ongoing patterns of eating which can be damaging.
This is when food or eating patterns are used as an ongoing coping strategy to:
- relieve stress, anxiety or depression
- provide comfort
- deal with painful or uncomfortable feelings
- feel a sense of control in one aspect of life
Eating disorders affect both men and women, often starting in adolescence. Some people suggest that media pressure to achieve the ‘perfect body’ and an emphasis on super thin models have made them more common. At the same time there is easier access to and mass advertising of high fat and high calorie 'junk' food. There may also be links with high achievers and increasing pressure to achieve targets.
Types of eating disorder
Anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where food is severely restricted in order to lose weight dramatically or maintain a very low body weight. Bulimia nervosa may involve a cycle of dieting followed by a binge or overeating. The resulting feelings of guilt or distress may be followed by vomiting or the use of laxatives.
Some people have both conditions. Over-exercising to control weight is also common. Compulsive over-eating is another eating disorder.
Recognising your eating difficulty and finding out more information is an important first step in getting help.
- Your GP (it is important to register with a Nottingham GP). The University of Nottingham Health Service, based at Cripps Health Centre are very experienced in all aspects of mental health and can refer to specialist services.
- The University Counselling Service provide individual counselling to staff or students who have eating disorders. They also produce a booklet, Eating Difficulties: getting support.
- B-eat is a national charity which provides a helpline, online support and self help groups. This includes a confidential group which meets on campus every 2 weeks.
The BBC webpages on eating disorders provide further information, including real stories.
Source: B-eat; University of Nottingham Counselling Service; BBC Health