Treatment for Eating Disorders: Have We Been Sucked Into The Eating Disorder Trap?

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But I’m Not Fat Enough To Have An Eating Disorder…

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

One of the tricks an eating disorder uses to gain power is to convince someone that their weight is more important than it really is. Weight becomes not just a number that reflects body mass but a measure of self-worth. If the number on the scales gets progressively smaller an eating disorder will praise you and tell you you’re worthwhile. But when the number gets bigger – even by only a few grams – an eating disorder will berate you for being weak and remind you just how worthless and disgusting you really are.

Have we fallen into the eating disorder trap? Are we so focused on weight that we're missing the other symptoms?

Have we fallen into the eating disorder trap? Are we so focused on weight that we’re missing the other symptoms?

Eating disorders trick people into being weight focused – but have we fallen into the same trap?

An eating disorder doesn’t just affect someone’s weight, it affects how they think about, feel, and act towards food. Yet all too often we make the mistake of assuming that if someone is in a healthy weight range – even if it’s at the very lowest end of that range – then they don’t have an eating disorder. It can be a dangerous assumption.

The stats are scary. The average length of treatment for anorexia nervosa is 7 years. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. 1 in 5 premature deaths in people with anorexia nervosa are caused by suicide. The risk of premature death from an eating disorder is 6-12 times higher than the general population.

To change these stats – early intervention is key.

Whether you’re a parent, a friend, a family member, a general practitioner, a dietician, or a clinical psychologist – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if someone’s not emaciated they don’t have any eating disorder. Eating disorders don’t just affect weight, they infiltrate someone’s mind and affect their whole psyche.

Be informed enough to know that even if someone is at a healthy weight –

If they have an intense fear of weight gain and restrict their diet to avoid gaining weight…
If they eat a narrow range of food and eating outside this range causes anxiety…
If they feel anxious eating foods they haven’t prepared…
If they hate feeling full at meals because it’s too distressing…
If they feel compelled to exercise to burn calories…
If not being able to exercise triggers anxiety and agitation…
If they need to keep track of their weight because not knowing causes too much anxiety…
If they criticise their body and fixate on perceived flaws…

…an eating disorder is starting to take hold. Don’t wait to see if it’s a phase. Take action. Now.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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