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Eating Problems

  We have to eat to live. We must eat on a daily basis in order to keep our bodies functioning efficiently. But sometimes we may end up eating in unhealthy ways. Many people have problems with eating, food, body image and weight. If these problems become serious and go on over a long period of time they sometimes get called eating disorders.

So what are exactly are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious unhealthy eating patterns that impact on our physical, personal and social well being. People working in this area talk about three main groups of eating disorders:

Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa occurs when a person refuses to maintain a minimal normal body weight. Weight loss is usually self-imposed. There are several ways used to lose weight including restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, and diuretic and laxative abuse. Individuals with anorexia have a distorted or unrealistic body image. They have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though they are underweight. People with anorexia also commonly feel depressed, irritable, moody, and anxious and can have suicidal thoughts, particularly if they feel isolated from family and friends. If anorexia is left untreated, it can be fatal.

Bulimia nervosa
People with bulimia are involved in a binge-purge cycle of trying to control their weight and food intake. The cycle often begins when a person eats a large amount of food in a short period of time, often feeling out of control while eating. They then feel guilty about the food they have eaten so use different methods to purge the food and calories from the body to prevent weight gain, e.g. vomiting, using laxatives, diuretics, strict diets, fasts, and excessive exercise. People often diet when not bingeing so when they become really hungry they may binge again. Binge eating usually occurs in secret.

A person's weight may be normal or near normal unless anorexia is also present. They can also have a real concern about their body image and often believe self-worth requires being thin (it does not).

People with bulimia also may experience anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and withdrawal, as well as social phobia and fear of humiliation. Bulimia can also result in death if untreated.

Compulsive Overeating/Binge Eating Disorder
This is when people binge eat frequently and repeatedly. Food may be a coping mechanism they use to deal with their feelings. They may feel out of control and unable to stop eating during binges. They are often overweight, feel guilty and ashamed of binge eating and feel depressed. Attempts to diet often fail and result in them feeling really hungry and binge eating again.

Do eating disorders affect a lot of people?
Eating disorders occur in all religions, races, economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. They affect more women than men, 95 percent are women, but they do affect guys too. They can happen at any age, but are more likely to first happen in adolescence and young adulthood.

What causes eating disorders?
Stress, emotions and peer pressure can affect our eating habits in unhealthy ways. People eat for a variety of reasons, not just hunger. They may eat because they are bored, depressed, lonely, frustrated, angry or stressed. Eating, purging or restricting what you eat may be used to deal with problems.

Eating problems might develop because someone is experiencing other difficulties such as:
Feelings of worthlessness or loss of control
Difficulty expressing feelings
Low self-esteem
Identity concerns
Problems coping with emotions
Problems getting on with family and friends
Problems at school
Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
Strong focus in the family on weight issues
High expectations of achievement in a family

The media often sends messages to people that "thin is beautiful" so people create an "ideal or perfect" body image in their minds. They then compare their own bodies to this "ideal", which results in them having very negative feelings about themselves and concerns about their body size and weight. They often think that how their body looks is directly related to how good they feel about themselves and their worth as a human being.

What next?
In Auckland there are specialist services to treat eating disorders and it maybe that a referral to one of these will help. Professional counselling and treatment is the best way to treat an eating disorder.

First though, if you or someone you know is having problems with eating, talking to someone about them is the first step. This person may be a School Guidance Counsellor, GP or other professional person you know, or it maybe an adult you trust like a teacher or member of your family/whanau. They will help figure out what to do next.

You may want to look at these websites to get more information about eating problems and disorders.

Related Websites Related Websites


Or you can contact:
Eating Difficulties Education Network (EDEN)
395A Manukau Rd, Epsom 1023
PO Box 26 713, Epsom, 1344
Phone: 09 631 7570
Email: info@eden.org.nz

EDEN provides a resource centre offering support, information and referral resources and library services to people with body image issues and their families and friends. Also offers satellite services at Auckland University and Unitec. Provides support groups, workshops, and a health promotion advisory service and a drop in centre in Grey Lynn.

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