Thanks to the popularity of social media, we are all too often exposed to physical appearances that are heavily altered, unrealistic, and only represent a small number of people. It can feel as though we are bombarded by images of fit, toned, fat free, tanned bodies.
The pressure to be a particular physical size or shape can lead to an over-emphasis on our appearance, a preoccupation with what we eat or how much we eat, and a desire to control our eating habits so that we can replicate the images we see on social media, or some image we have in our mind of how we ‘should’ look. Although the health consequences are serious, people who restrict their eating often experience a sense of control over their body and their life when so many other things in their life seem out of control. This might include relationship issues, depression, abuse, bullying, low self-esteem, as well as the very vulnerable stages of adolescence where young people are entering the complicated world of adulthood. Although this sense of control is very rewarding, it is important to remember that there are very serious short and long-term consequences to disordered eating.
There are roughly four types of disordered eating:
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Compulsive Overeating
- Other Feeding and Eating Disorders
This involves a distorted body image and restricting eating (or starving) to the point of extreme thinness. Symptoms can include sudden unexplained weight loss, skipping meals or eating alone, excessive exercising, excessive dieting, depression, total preoccupation with body shape and weight, and restricted living to the point where a person is primarily concerned with exercising and not eating.
The physical effects can be severe indigestion, skin and nail problems, thinning hair, sensitivity to cold and severe weight loss. Longer-term consequences include severe physical and psychological complications.
This is characterised by binge eating – consuming huge amounts of food followed by ‘purging’ actions to avoid gaining weight from that food. These actions can include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, fasting, or the abuse of laxatives.
This eating disorder can cause a chronic sore throat, tooth enamel decay, cessation of menstruation, fluctuating weight, and can put severe strain on the body’s organs. It can even lead to rupturing of the oesophagus.
This is identified by binge eating without the purging actions described above. The effect of overeating is rapid weight gain and is often linked to changes in mood as well.
Compulsive overeating can lead to high blood pressure, heart strain, lethargy, as well as being a gateway to other diseases related to being overweight, including some chronic diseases.
Other Feeding And Eating Disorders
This category includes other disordered eating patterns that do not fall under anorexia or bulimia, but that are nonetheless driven by emotional and psychological factors and can have dangerous effects on a person’s body and mood. This includes excessive fasting, binge eating in a particular kind of way, or consuming a very limited selection of food to the point of insufficient nutrition, or in a way that causes distress or social withdrawal.
This can be very harmful to a person’s mental and physical health and can also lead to physical complications and metabolic problems.
When Should One Seek Help?
Unrealistic images on social media and the big screen are often filtered, heavily edited and photoshopped. Influencers and actors are paid to look good and put many hours of hard work into attaining and maintaining their image, not to mention the filters and editing. Even with this knowledge, it’s easy for this glorified perfection to lead to feelings of inadequacy or a desire to look differently. When we are facing other challenges in our life that seem out of our control, it can often seem like focussing on our body will give us back a sense of control. But in reality, it leads to further problems and challenges down the line.
If you or someone you know is struggling with eating that is disordered, or you suspect you or someone else might be, it is worth reaching out for support. Living with an eating disorder can be life threatening, and there are ways that it can be addressed and that you can regain a sense of control in your life without the need to drastically alter your eating.
Support is always on hand via the Sydney City Psychology team. Contact us today to talk through any questions you might have about eating or body concerns. We are here to support you and encourage you to live a healthy and meaningful life.