Eating disorders can include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED) or eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). These disorders affect between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK.  And additionally, it may surprise you to know that around 25% of those are male. Worryingly, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate amongst psychiatric disorders. So we want to talk about 5 signs to look out for that might mean that you have an eating disorder. If you have any of these signs, don’t worry, there is good help out there. A big part of dealing with an eating disorder is becoming aware of the behaviour and talking about it. So what should you look out for? 


1. Constantly thinking about food on a day to day basis   


You may find you’re thinking constantly about food. For example you could be logging all your foods and aiming for a very low calorie intake. It’s possible that you are avoiding certain foods or food groups completely. Or you might be planning, storing and hiding food for binge eating. Any of these behaviours can mean that you are focusing so much on food that it becomes an obsession. 

We can have around 65,000 thoughts in our minds each day – far too many to be conscious of them all. We have a rational, logical part to our brains and an emotional part, which is what keeps us safe. When our emotional brain is active, it shuts off our thinking brain and we are not able to think logically. So, if we’re constantly focusing on food or losing weight, then we can become obsessive. These obsessive thoughts have strong emotions attached to them, meaning our emotional brain is in charge. And this means that a lot of the thoughts we are having surrounding food are emotionally charged and not logical. Therefore, we may make decisions that seem perfectly sensible, but that we may regret later. 


2. Feeling out of control if you have something you deem ‘off plan’


When following a diet plan, or sticking to a certain number of calories, you may slip from time to time. It’s possible that on these occasions you then go on to completely abandon the plan for a complete day, or week or even a month! Of course, that one small slip on it’s own is not likely to cause a major issue. But as in point 1, if we’re highly emotional around food, we make decisions that are not logical at all. Therefore, we may carry on eating more ‘off plan’ and maybe even throw the plan out completely! 

The reason for this is that when we’re in our emotional brain, our thinking brain is limited. The thoughts we have then are very black and white. Thoughts such as, ‘this isn’t working’ or ‘I’ll never lose weight’ can lead to a spiral of emotional eating. 


3. Experiencing anxiety when going out to eat 


If you monitor or control your food intake it can be extremely distressing to go to a restaurant to eat. You may be regulating your food intake quite strictly. It could be that doing this allows you to feel in control of something that usually stresses you out. So it makes sense that eating in a restaurant would prove stressful. Most restaurants don’t state how many calories are in a meal and you can’t always be sure of how it has been prepared. This can lead to many people avoiding going out for meals and even socialising in those environments. The anxiety that is felt in these situations causes avoidance behaviour.  

We all have basic emotional needs that need to be met well to be mentally healthy. These include community, attention, control, intimacy and purpose. Avoidance behaviour can have an extremely detrimental effect on our needs. Avoiding socialising with people will have a negative effect on our needs for community, intimacy and control, amongst others. As a result, we’re more unbalanced and this makes it harder to take a rational approach to food. 


4. Body dysmorphia 


With mirrors everywhere, we are consciously and unconsciously judging ourselves constantly. Our sense of identity is wrapped up in what we tell ourselves. Therefore, if we are always saying we are too fat or too thin, it becomes part of who we think we are. We will look in the mirror and see that version of ourselves that we have created. Hence we are completely unable to see ourselves as we truly are. 

You may look at someone else and think they look great and tell them so. But you might be completely unable to see any good in yourself. Even when others tell you that you look good, it is such a contradiction to the version you have of yourself that you disregard it. 


5. Making yourself sick or taking laxatives 


This is a very serious aspect of eating disorders and can be a kind of self-harm or self-punishment. However, it is rarely about the food itself and much more to do with control. Control is one of our most important emotional needs. The more someone feels out of control, then the more they will seek to control something external.

A lack of control might be felt when growing up with or living with other people who are controlling them. It’s natural, if you feel that you have no control, to then try to control something else, such as food, in order to gain some of that control back. One of the few things we can be totally in control of, is what food we put in our mouths. As well as this, we can control whether we throw that food up or take laxatives to get rid of it. This can be a spiralling behaviour of feeling out of control and trying to regain it. 


You can change your relationship with food 

These signs are behaviours to be aware of and with the exception of the last one, they are not necessarily indicative of an eating disorder. However, any of them can have a serious impact on your health. So it’s really important to firstly become consciously aware of them and secondly to get some help. Specialist help that tackles the emotions behind the behaviour will help you to have a lifelong healthy relationship with food. This means that you can begin to enjoy food and be healthy for the rest of your life. 

If you are interested in working with a skilled fitness coach and nutritionist that has a vast experience of eating disorders then visit Shanmack Wellness. Shannon is the UK’s no.1 female fitness coach and has personal experience in successfully treating eating disorders. She devises a personalised wellness program which includes nutrition, fitness and therapy with myself as the in-house therapist. You can watch this short video on YouTube where myself and Shannon discuss the signs of eating disorders. 

I hope you have found this information about eating disorders helpful. As always, please share if you know someone who would benefit from reading it. For more information and useful downloads, head over to our website.

With very best wishes


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