Eating disorders cause people to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and themselves. They are complex mental illnesses that can affect a person emotionally, physically and socially. The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. In the UK, more than 725,000 men and women are affected by eating disorders.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of sex, age or background. While women aged 12 to 20 are more likely to develop an eating disorder, older women and men of all ages can also develop a problem. On this page we'll look at the role a nutrition professional can have in recovery from eating disorders.
Treatment and support
While it may not feel like it at first, talking about what you're going through can be incredibly helpful. There are many treatment options available to help you recover from an eating disorder and the first step is seeking support. If you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, it is likely your GP will refer you to a specialist care team. The team will consist of nurses, psychologists, counsellors and nutrition professionals. These people will support you throughout your journey.
How can a nutrition professional help?
The primary focus of a nutrition professional working with eating disorders is to help you restore a healthy relationship with food. Remember that getting back to a normal, healthy eating behaviour will take time. It will not be easy, but once you have taken the first step, a nutrition professional can work with you to devise a future plan. Once the body receives optimal nutrition, it is able to perform and is better equipped to deal with the challenges that life can throw our way.
A nutrition professional can be on hand to offer the support you might need during and after recovery. They will work with you, listen to you and be the supportive hand you may need when facing these new challenges. A nutritionist will work to re-educate you on the importance of nutrition, as well as working to break down the “rules” and “bad food” habits you may have developed.
The nutritional recovery process is not just about your weight. Weight isn’t always the primary goal; every small step towards a rounded and balanced outlook of nutrition is an excellent step in the right direction. It is a slow process where food - a vital part of life - is reintroduced to promote health and well-being.
The help and support of a nutrition professional can make the dietary changes more attainable by providing education and constant feedback. They will help you create meal plans that focus on goals to directly improve your health and work at your own pace.
How can I find a nutritionist?
When looking for a nutritionist, it is important you find someone that resonates with you and someone who is sufficiently qualified. At Nutritionist Resource we have a proof policy to ensure everyone listed on the website has provided proof of qualifications and insurance, or membership with a professional body.
We have an advanced search tool to help you find a nutrition professional you feel comfortable working with. We encourage our members to fill their profiles with as much information as possible, so you can learn more about how they work and what they can help with before making contact.
Anorexia nervosa is perhaps the best-known eating disorder. It causes its sufferers to fear being overweight and restrict their eating habits in an unhealthy, dangerous way. Individuals with anorexia are likely to perceive themselves as overweight, even if they are not. This distorted perception combined with emotional factors - including low self-esteem and an inability to manage difficult feelings - can typically lead to the sufferer limiting their intake of food and often exercising in excess.
While anorexia is most common among women, it has become more common among men in recent years. It is thought that on average, the condition first develops during the teenage years. People with anorexia may believe that they will be happy once they reach their ideal weight, but sadly this is rarely the case. The eating disorder can become a habitual coping mechanism and this is very difficult to get out of.
While it may feel like there is no escape from an eating disorder, treatment and support is available. There are many professionals out there that can support you during your recovery. A nutrition professional can help you rebuild your confidence and your relationship with food.
Binge-eating disorder is a form of compulsive overeating. Sufferers feel a compulsion to eat large amounts of food and as though they cannot stop. According to Mind, the mental health charity, many people who suffer with binge-eating disorder will come to rely on food for emotional support. Sufferers may also turn to food to mask difficult emotions.
Binge-eating episodes typically take place in private. Episodes can last for a number of hours, yet some sufferers will binge for the whole day, feeling powerless to stop. It is common for sufferers to feel very distressed and upset about their lack of control. It is this shame and guilt that can prevent a person from talking about their problem and seeking help.
Binge-eating disorder can have a number of negative side effects on both physical and emotional well-being. It is also commonly associated with depression and anxiety.
Side effects of the condition can worsen over time, which is why it is so important to seek support. A prominent side effect of binge-eating is weight gain. This can lead to medical complications, such as:
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- liver and kidney problems
A nutrition professional will be able to consider any medical problems related to the disorder. They will work with you to adapt your diet, improve health, well-being and in many cases, potentially reverse some of the complications.
Bulimia nervosa causes its sufferers to fear weight gain. This can lead them to use unhealthy measures to get rid of the food they have consumed. This may include excessive exercising, taking laxatives or vomiting. As with other eating disorders, bulimia is often associated with low self-esteem, depression and self-harm.
Many people suffering from an eating disorder tend to use their eating habits as a way to cope with emotional distress. It is common for sufferers to have an abnormal fear of food, calories and gaining weight. It is this fear that often causes people with bulimia to restrict their food intake. This restriction can result in binge-eating.
Following the binge, it is common for the sufferer to feel intense shame and guilt. Often, they will look to purge shortly afterwards to remove the food. Purging can become dangerously addictive. In some cases, purging will become a habit. Sufferers will purge regularly, even if they haven’t binged.
Bulimia nervosa is characterised by the binge-purge cycle, which is influenced by the restricted diets sufferers follow. But sadly, the more strict the diet, the higher the chance of binging. The body responds to the starvation and lack of nutrition through powerful cravings. As the hunger and feelings of deprivation increase, so does the urge to eat. Often this urge sees people with bulimia reach for “forbidden" or "bad" foods. This is what can trigger the all-or-nothing mindset.
Symptoms of bulimia range from changes in appearance, to bodily aches, pains and severe dehydration. Yet there are other, serious effects of bulimia that can develop if the condition is left untreated.
Side effects of bulimia can include:
- chronic irregular bowel movements
- chronic constipation
- kidney failure
- ruptured stomach
- problems in pregnancy
Content reviewed by dietitian, Rhiannon Lambert. All content displayed on Nutritionist Resource is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
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