Eating and Body Image Problems

Do you… ?

  • Have intense fears of gaining weight and have strong negative beliefs about your appearance, weight and shape?
  • Try and restrict what you are eating or find yourself uncontrollably eating larger quantities of food in short amounts of time?
  • Use behaviours such as vomiting, using laxatives and excessive exercise to prevent weight gain?
  • Use eating as a way of coping with your emotions?

If you are experiencing some or all of the symptoms above you may be suffering from an eating disorder.

What are Eating Disorders?

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is typically characterised by recurrent binge-eating followed by the use of compensatory behaviours (e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxatives, food restriction, excessive exercise) to prevent weight gain. During binge-eating, typically a large amount of food is consumed within a short amount of time and there is a perceived sense of loss of control over eating.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and life-threatening condition. It is primarily characterised by a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and excessive food restriction. In addition to food restriction, people can often engage in binge-eating, purging behaviours (e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxatives) and excessive exercise. Additional features of anorexia nervosa include an intense fear of fatness, a pursuit for thinness, a distorted perception on one’s body weight and shape and amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycles).

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa where there are recurrent episodes of binge-eating. However, unlike bulimia nervosa, people do not use compensatory behaviours to control weight. As such, binge-eating disorder can lead to obesity. Again, there is a sense of loss control during binge-eating and often there an intense feelings of guilt and disgust after binge-eating.

How common is it?

Eating disorders are most common in females however, they are also becoming increasing prevalent in the male population. It is estimated that 1.6 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, of which 11% are male.

What can I do about it?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the most effective treatment of bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Interpersonal Psychotherapy has also been found to be effective in treating bulimia nervosa. A range of treatments are considered for anorexia nervosa and include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy and Family Therapy.

As eating disorders are often complicated by medical risk and psychiatric comorbidity, treatment often needs to also focus on medical and physical interventions in conjunction with psychological interventions.

How can I help myself?

In order to access specialist treatment for an eating disorder, please speak to your GP who will be able to refer you to the most appropriate services.

Self-help options
There are some self-help books on Eating Disorders that also might be helpful:

Getting Better Bit(e) by Bit(e) – A Survival Kit for Sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorders Ulrike Schmidt & Janet Treasure

Overcoming Binge Eating Christopher Fairburn