Eating Difficulties


Eating Difficulties

Most women (and men) can easily identify things they don’t like about their body, but the degree to which we’re dissatisfied with our appearance varies. People with mild body image dissatisfaction may feel insecure about their appearance only every now and then, whereas other people might suffer from a constant stream of negative thoughts about their body. Strong body image dissatisfaction like this can lead to dietary restriction, binge eating, or self-induced vomiting after eating – all of which can be hard to stop.

Having an eating disorder is impossibly hard. Eating becomes a dreaded event associated with anxiety and guilt – the intensity of which seems more serious than the medical consequences of maintaining an unhealthy weight – and because most people fail to understand that living with an eating disorder isn’t a choice, it’s also an incredibly lonely experience.

Regardless of whether you have a diagnosable eating disorder, if food makes you feel anxious and stressed or if you feel out of control around food, consider seeking help from a clinical psychologist.

Click here for more information about eating disorders, and here for tips on how to build a positive body image and a healthy relationship with food.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious and potentially life threatening illness.

What Are The Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa?

The main symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa are:

  • An intense fear of gaining weight, or maintaining a weight within a healthy weight range
  • Deliberate attempts to restrict energy intake to control weight
  • Deliberate attempts to compensate for ‘unnecessary’ calories via self-induced vomiting, compulsive exercise, or dietary restriction
  • Intense dissatisfaction with body shape and weight and/or disturbed body image (someone seeing themselves as fat when they’re not)
  • Denying the seriousness of a low body weight
  • An over-emphasis on the importance of body shape and weight
  • Obsessive monitoring of body shape and weight


What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?

Why someone develops Anorexia Nervosa will differ from person to person but the onset of Anorexia is nearly always preceded by a period of dieting. Whether to lose weight or to be healthier, dieting starts as a resolve to cut out “junk food”, but over time other food groups are cut out as well. Portion sizes dramatically reduce with time and calorie restrictions become more severe.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a complex disorder with serious medical consequences.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bulimia Nervosa?

The main symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa are:

  • Frequent episodes of binge eating
  • Feeling out of control while binge eating
  • Binge eating in secret
  • Relying on binge eating and purging to manage distress
  • Compensating for binge eating with purging (e.g. vomiting, laxatives, diuretics), exercise, or dietary restriction
  • Avoiding “binge foods” to avoid binge eating
  • Over-emphasising the importance of body shape and weight


What Causes Binge Eating?

Triggers for binge eating vary from person to person but common triggers might include stress, low mood, loneliness, boredom, or dieting. Strict dieting can lead to intense hunger which can cause binge eating and breaking a food rule can also trigger a binge. After binge eating, people with Bulimia Nervosa usually feel distressed and frustrated. To try to cancel out binge calories, they may force themselves to vomit, take laxatives or diuretics, resolve to restrict their food intake the following day, or exercise.

Like people with anorexia, people with bulimia are usually dissatisfied with their body, want to lose weight, or are afraid of gaining weight.  Unlike people with anorexia, people with bulimia are usually within a normal weight range (though some people may be slightly under- or overweight).  Unfortunately people with Bulimia Nervosa are often ashamed of their binge eating so they avoid getting help.

Binge Eating

Binge Eating disorder is a complex disorder with serious health consequences. It differs from Bulimia Nervosa in that people with Binge Eating disorder don’t try to compensate for their binge eating by vomiting or through dietary restriction or through exercise.

What Are The Symptoms Of Binge Eating Disorder?

The main symptoms of Binge Eating disorder are:

  • Recurrent binge eating
  • Feeling out of control while binge eating
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Binge eating in secret due to embarrassment
  • Relying on binge eating to cope with negative emotions
  • Eating rapidly
  • Feeling disgusting, depressed, or guilty after binge eating


What Causes Binge Eating?

Binge eating can be triggered by strict dieting, but it might also develop as a way to cope with low mood, loneliness, low self-esteem, or boredom.

Other Eating Difficulties

Some people might engage in disordered eating like skipping meals, restrictive dieting, or compulsive eating, but have fewer symptoms or symptoms that are less severe than those experienced by people with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge Eating disorder. These symptoms can be the start of an eating disorder and seeking help early is important.

Regardless of whether you feel you meet criteria for an eating disorder, if eating difficulties are negatively affecting your mood or interfering with your enjoyment of life it may be worthwhile seeking advice from a clinical psychologist.