Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Eating Disorders: What I've Learnt So Far...



This is going to be a slightly different and more serious (sorry!) blog post today.  This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) – a topic very close to my heart.  First things first, I myself have never suffered from an eating disorder.  I have unfortunately seen friends and peers struggle with disordered eating throughout their teenage life and that was my first real insight into the disorder.  As a psychology student, clinical psychology is a potential career path for me, and this year I have been on a work placement set on an acute inpatient eating disorders ward in London.  I thought I knew quite a lot about eating disorders before I started my placement. I was SO wrong!  I've learnt a hell of a lot in the last 5 months and I want to share some of this with you to try and debunk some of the myths surrounding eating disorders and to help others gain an understanding of what having an eating disorder might be like.

First of all I want to start off by saying that EVERY SINGLE EATING DISORDER IS UNIQUE.  There is no fixed event that causes an eating disorder; each person will have a different set of symptoms and eating behaviours.  However, there are some factors that seem to overlap and I will try to cover these as best I can.  Although I am aware there are many types of eating disorder – anorexia restrictive type, anorexia binge-purge type, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding & eating disorder (formally EDNOS) – I am going to focus on anorexia nervosa as this is the disorder I am most familiar with since being on my placement.


Often, an eating disorder develops as a coping mechanism.  While I may cry and listen to Adele on repeat when I feel a sense of loss or a lack of control in my life, someone else may restrict their food intake, count calories or binge until they feel sick.  The way I see it – and how others with an ED have described it themselves – when a loss of control is felt in one’s life, this control can be regained with the ability to control their food intake and weight.  There is a sense of reward when one manages to eat less than 300 calories for the whole day, or when one purges up their last binge.  Simple A-Level Psychology taught us that an action that elicits a sense of reward leads to repetition of this action.  And this exact principle can be applied to this stage of the eating disorder. At first, a person may just see this as a hobby; something that provides them with a sense of satisfaction.  But often, once results show – clothes becoming baggy, other people complimenting their thin physique – this “hobby” can take over one’s life. 

I was given an analogy for an eating disorder which I will never forget.  This analogy was from a former patient, someone who’s been there before, but I’d love to know your thoughts on it or any other analogies you may use or have heard.  Once an eating disorder has developed, it becomes like a child to the individual.  It becomes the individual’s best friend, especially since having an eating disorder can isolate you from others.  It’s a safety blanket and you care for the disorder as if it were your own baby.  Now imagine this individual has been admitted to an inpatient unit because their eating disorder becomes extremely severe.  Health professionals are now saying “by the way, that child isn't good for you; we need to take it away from you.”  Obviously the individual is going to be resistant!  This analogy helped me to see why some of the patients on the ward are so adamant that they are not unwell and understand what kind of position they feel they are in.



Lastly, I want to make a point about the media.  I remember when I was being interviewed for my placement, one person asked me “tell me everything you know about eating disorders.”  As you could imagine I was taken aback by the broadness of the question but I just wittered on about the impact of the media.  In hindsight I realise that this area is just a fraction of what may fuel an eating disorder and I feel pretty stupid for only talking about this (particularly after I found out this particular interviewer is one of the leading researchers in eating disorders in the UK…) Don’t get me wrong, the portrayal of stick thin, visibly underweight models is setting a horrendous example and ideal for young teenagers with impressionable minds.  However, from my experiences on the ward, these don’t tend to cause an eating disorder as is often assumed; rather they act as a trigger to an already eating-disordered mind.


I’d love to hear your views on this topic, and please tell me if you think I'm wrong in anything I've said.  I've still got a long way to go before I swoop into the deep, dark world of clinical psychology!  Please leave your comments below! Xx



If you are suffering from an eating disorder or are worried that someone close to you may be, please contact your GP or go to http://www.b-eat.co.uk/ for more information.  Don’t suffer in silence!

1 comment:

  1. This was such an interesting read. Love the way you've talked about such a great topic.

    Nikita | nikitabatavia.com

    ReplyDelete