Eating Disorders: Understanding and Management

I just had my food. Thanks,” Sara excused herself as soon as she saw food being served. We all do that but only when we are actually full but she had to pretend being full to save herself from embarrassment — the embarrassment of her restrictive eating patterns and an overriding fear of gaining weight.
Eating disorder is a mental illness, which involves abnormal eating patterns. It is a manifestation of a person’s ongoing deeper struggles and unattended distress. It acts as an unhelpful compensatory or coping mechanism against constant intrusive thoughts regarding food and/or body image. Eating disorders can take the form of restrictive eating patterns, restrictive calorie count, extremely distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining excessive weight despite being significantly underweight. Bulimia, on the other hand, is a mental illness characterized by periods of excessive overeating. People suffering from bulimia fear gaining weight. Another important factor that determines bulimia is the compensatory mechanism people with bulimia use to lose weight after binge eating, which involves excessive laxatives, exercise, induced vomiting, diuretics and other medications. For instance, a person with bulimia who binges upon a large portion of food might start running immediately for an hour or induce vomiting to remove the food from the body to avoid weight gain. 
Certain risk factors contribute to improper eating habits. Having a first degree relative with an eating disorder, having a close relative with any other mental health condition, history of dieting or having Type I Diabetes are important biological risk factors for developing eating disorders. Certain social factors also play an equally important role in causing eating disorder such as bullying, body shaming, media and societal pressures to stay fit in the socially acceptable body type. Personal factors play a crucial part in development of the condition. Dissatisfaction with one’s body image, a tendency to do things always the ‘right way’ and an already existing anxiety disorder add up the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Are you helpless in this situation? No, you can surely heal your relationship with your body by reflecting upon your thoughts and actions. Notice the unhealthy patterns and question yourself, how do you like your body? Are you comfortable with the way you look? Are you constantly comparing your body with others? Do you find yourself keeping a constant check on calorie count or editing the pictures you are posting online to look thin? Do you refuse to eat even when you are hungry? Is there an overriding sense of guilt after eating? Do you find yourself saying ‘I am fat’ even though your body weight lies within or below the average BMI range? Is your home, work or school life effected because of these disturbing patterns? Yes, to these questions warrant clinical attention and professional help.
How to Manage Eating Disorders:
Along with professional help, certain strategies can help you take care of your body and heal your mental health as well. 
•    Mindful eating is one of the best management strategies. Mindful eating helps a lot of people to deal with their disrupted relationship with food. Focus your attention on the texture, taste, smell and sight of the food that you are eating. You can accomplish it by consciously paying attention to the feel of the food this will help you stay in touch with your mind and body.
•    Focus on your breath before starting your meal to clear your mind.
•    Focus on the present moment rather the negative narratives in your mind.
•    Avoid eating while you are walking, standing or watching TV.
•    Another important strategy to manage your disturbed eating patterns is to have a short term practical goal. Set small, achievable goals for increasing or decreasing your daily food intake by maintaining a food diary, adding small portions of healthy food to your plate every day.
•    Always remember to seek social support when you do not feel like following your plans for a dose of motivation. The best thing you can do for yourself is to commit to therapy sessions to help deal with anxiety.
•    Notice the triggers that increase the severity of your problem and deal with those issues immediately. Manage your stress through effective problem solving strategies to avoid being caught in the cycle of unhealthy eating patterns.
•    Take a break from the unrealistic standards of beauty and body image from the messages media provides you with, by surrounding yourself with people who accept you for who you are and support your healing process effectively.
•    Add physical exercise and healthy activities that may help you spend more time in taking care of yourself.
If you or any loved one is stuck in the cycle of distorted body image, then seek professional help and support those going through this traumatic cycle. Help is always available and you are never alone!  HH

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