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Opinion: Eating disorders are more complex than you might think

And while teenage girls are the prime demographic for eating disorders, the condition impacts all genders and gender identities, young and old

Summertime.  A time when many people in the North are thinking about swimming, boating, campfires and, for many of us, bathing suit season. 

While some think of losing winter weight or becoming “beach body ready,” many have a stronger reaction regarding eating than this. 

Often when we think of eating disorders, we think about an adolescent female starving herself. However, this behavioural health concern can be much more encompassing and complex.  Although it is true that teenage girls tend to be the primary population impacted, eating disorders also influence numerous other individuals at different life stages. It is not just a condition impacting females; it impacts males and other gender identities, as well.

There are several different types of eating disorders and you or someone you know may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with one of them. Not all people restrict food. Some individuals use diuretics, laxatives, fasting, rapid eating, exercising, binge-eating, ingesting non-food substances, and/or avoiding certain foods, to name a few. 

Not all eating disorders are created equal and, in some cases, people do not have any distress about their body shape or size, but rather an urge or a sense of control dictates the behaviour.

Admittedly, it is difficult to tell if you or someone you know has an eating disorder, particularly in today’s society where it seems many of us have unhealthy relationships with food. Some important considerations are to evaluate one’s food consumption to determine if one is meeting their daily dietary needs and if it’s having an impact on psychosocial functioning. 

Seeking an expert opinion through formal assessment is warranted if you think you have an unhealthy relationship with food that is impacting your ability to live life to its fullest.

So, what exactly causes or maintains an eating disorder?

Well, the answer again is not that simple. There are often numerous factors to consider: genetic predisposition, executive functioning, self-esteem, perfectionism, anxiety difficulties. Also, a person’s chances of developing an eating disorder are increased if they have a family history of mental health concerns, have experienced bullying or trauma, have a parentally influenced unhealthy relationship with food and have learned unhealthy means of managing their emotions.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you don’t have to go through this alone. Treatment options exist and one therapeutic modality that has garnered solid evidence through rigorous research is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). 

You can expect that a clinician will complete a thorough assessment and work collaboratively with your primary health-care provider to guide you through developing a healthier relationship with food using CBT techniques.

There are various options available in Sudbury, including the publicly funded eating disorders program at HSN, as well as private options.

Wherever you go for treatment you will want to be sure that you ask your clinician about their experience working in this area, the training that they have received, what type of therapy they use to treat eating disorders, and what types of consultation and supervision are available to them to ensure that you are making an informed decision about treatment.

Angie Hunda BA BEd MACP, registered psychotherapist (Qualifying) and 

Stacey Roles RN MScN PhD(c), psychotherapist, are with Stacey E. Roles & Associates, a team comprised of registered multidisciplinary clinicians who are all certified cognitive behavioural therapists.