Eating Disorders & Body Image

How we think and feel about our body is a significant part of our emotional and psychological health. Being able to accept our body and hold it in high esteem can be difficult in a society that places increasing focus on physical appearance and rewards certain types of appearances over others. This can result in disturbances in our thoughts and feelings about our body. Eating disorders are disturbances in one’s eating as well as eating-related thoughts, feelings and behaviours that create altered consumption or absorption of food and negatively affects someone’s physical and psychosocial functioning. 

The three common eating disorders are as follows

Anorexia Nervosa

In anorexia nervosa, the disturbance involves significant weight loss and preoccupation with weight and restricting food intake. Anorexia goes beyond what one normally witnesses in friends who are trying to lose weight. It involves distorted views and feelings about one’s body that lead to poor eating behaviours. The perception of one’s weight is not based in reality. Anorexia can lead to other health conditions and, in extreme cases, even death. It is more frequent in women than men.

A person can have a restricting subtype (e.g., not eating, excessive exercise) or ‘binge-purge’ subtype (e.g., excessive eating followed by extreme efforts to get rid of what one ate such as vomiting, laxative use or exercise).

Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to significant low body weight 
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or being fat, and constants efforts to reduce weight 
  • Negative perception of one’s body weight, shape or the lack of recognition of the seriousness of low body weight

Bulimia Nervosa

A person’s self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight. Bulimia Nervosa will be diagnosed if: 

  • Discrete periods of eating significantly more food than most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances
  • A sense of lack of control over eating (e.g., feeling that one cannot stop eating)
  • Compensatory behaviours to prevent weight gain such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise
  • Binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours that occur weekly for 3 months

Binge Eating Disorder

If one does not meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, but shows the following symptoms, they may suffer from Binge Eating Disorder. Characteristics of Binge Eating Disorder include:

  • Recurrent instances of eating a lot of food in a discrete period of time (e.g., 2 hours), eating an amount that is larger than what most would need under similar periods and circumstances
  • A feeling that one cannot stop eating or lacks control over what and how much one is eating
  • Eating much faster than normal, feeling uncomfortably full or eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or guilty after eating
  • Distress regarding binge eating
  • The binge eating occurs on average once a week for 3 months