Eating disorders are serious and complex issues, with strong medical and psychological components, relating to negative body image, weight and shape concerns, problematic eating and compensatory behaviours, including starvation, binging, vomiting, compulsive exercise and the abuse of diuretics.
Many women in western society are not content with their weight or body shape and it can become a life-long focus of attention. Who tells girls and women that their size, body shape or eating patterns are incorrect? Apart from the obsessive attention paid by magazines, social media, peer group discussion and sometimes familial pressures – the answer is – no-one!
The time of greatest change in body shape, size and eating patterns (apart from pregnancy) is adolescence. It is also a time when we transition to making most decisions for ourselves.
Adolescence – a Transition Process
If we are supported in this process, then we will tend to make choices that are informed, fair and consistent. Being supported includes a background free from abuse, being able to make individual choices from an early age, and where individual children are not compared one with another but treated in an individually fair way. In other words, given a fair go on every level.
If we have suffered what is called Type 2 trauma (trauma as a continuity from childhood), the adolescence and early adulthood years may not be as smooth a transition. Complex trauma can include the effects of domestic violence, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, coercive parenting practices, and/or projection by one or either caregiver that one child is different to or “better” than another. It is a developmental discontinuity that occurs over time and reaches a perfect storm in adolescence and early adulthood. It is not the only indicator of factors leading to developing an eating disorder; but these factors also contribute to other self-harming practices.
By the time we reach adolescence, we are starting to make most decisions for ourselves. We are reaching the completion of a cognitive schema of ourselves in the world that commenced back in early childhood: our place in the world and how we can affect it and be affected by it. The corollary is that we don’t have to accept everything that our caregivers, teachers, peer group and media tell us about ourselves. We can strike out on our own!
One of the areas that we can have complete control in is what we take into our body (food, alcohol, other substances), as well as what and how we excrete it (laxatives, purgatives, or aperients ie substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements and treat and prevent constipation.) We can eat when we are hungry. We can also eat, drink alcohol and take other substances to feel “different” and escape a world we are not happy in. We can experience fleeting happiness and comfort in another reality – far from pain, fear and anxiety. This can lead to other symptoms in our mind and our body, especially our gastro-intestinal tract, that need “fixing” – and so the process continues. Emotionally and psychologically, it can lead to a flatness, emptiness and need to “wake up” and do it again.
You can see where I am going with this…..
Eating disorders or disturbances in our relationship with food are along a continuum.
When we need to resort to binge eating/ excessive under-eating and /or bulimia, then we may need assistance by a multi-disciplinary team, including medical assistance, in order to recover.
A disordered eating pattern is not the cause of an eating disorder, but the behaviour is caused by an interplay of individual, social and familial factors, many of which you will be able to identify. It may have been a short-term solution; it may have been a choice that got out of hand. Either way, you are already on the road to recovery if you have read this article and wish to make forward progress.
Author: Susan Ward, B Arts, B Soc Wk, AMHSW.
Susan Ward has a wealth of experience in helping people with issues like trauma, grief and loss, eating disorders, interpersonal violence, social anxiety, stress, depression, and difficult relationships.
To make an appointment with Accredited Mental Health Social Worker Susan Ward try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Clinical dilemmas in the care of children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa Brett McDermott and Tony Jaffa/Mater Children’s Hospital and The Phoenix Centre, Cambridge, UK.
- Individual psychotherapy for children and adolescents with an eating disorder From historical precedent toward evidence-based practice. Brett McDermott, Chris Harris, Peter Gibbon www.childpsych.theclinics.com › article › pdf