COLUMN: Eating disorders are often not about food

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I was recently contacted by Closer magazine and asked for some comments around eating disorders.

My comments were published but I thought a topic as serious as this merited further exploration.

One of the most common misconceptions around the condition is that people are unhappy with their weight and appearance. This is less common than you may think, and it sounds a little paradoxical that an eating disorder may not really be anything to do with food.

The question I often come up against is whether an eating disorder is the cause of mental illnesses or whether it is in fact a bi-product of it. It’s a pertinent question as an eating disorder can often lead to low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to more severe conditions such as clinical depression.

However the key factor to consider is that there may well have been an underlying mental health disorder in the first instance.

There are several reasons behind the development of eating disorders, but again it is necessary to emphasise the importance of treating the underlying cause.

One of the questions I was asked by the magazine was my opinion was on a gastric band.

My response was simple, it merely treats the effect and unless you address the root cause it is effectively like sticking a plaster over a bullet wound.

The benefits of surgery cannot be dismissed. However, if the causing factors are not addressed, it is merely reactive not proactive and does not necessarily prevent a recurrence in the future.

Eating disorders are rarely about food, so if this is the case what are they about? Sometimes they are about control. If an individual is in a controlling or abusive relationship where they are dictated to, their food intake may be the only thing they have control over, the only aspect of their life they can make a decision in.

For some people it may be a response to bullying, insensitive comments about their appearance which induce feelings of inadequacy and a desire to fit in and be liked.

Linked closely to this, and something we cannot dismiss, is the influence of things like the media and even social media. There exists an opinion that the media promotes a certain look and with that comes a pressure and a desire for individuals to fit in with this look.

This is something more prominent among young girls and women, but is not uncommon in men.

For some it can be seen as a form of punishment. They feel guilty over something which has happened and as a result partake in maladaptive behaviour.

Effectively, an eating disorder is a form of expression, whether it be frustration, guilt, anger, hurt etc. and addressing the aforementioned will provide a much better opportunity at successfully tackling the eating disorder.