Is an eating disorder a mental ‘illness’?

As soon as we are born – one of the first things we do, is feed. Our palate and taste develops as we grow from milk to solid foods – sourcing the nutrients we need to grow and develop healthily. We rely on our parents and carers to provide healthy, well balanced meals – but as we grow our relationship with food and eating can change – some will develop a healthy relationship with food/eating and others will not. 

An unhealthy relationship with food can become problematic and if the problem becomes chronic can develop into an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.  Someone may become over controlling around their intake of food, either eating too much or too little, and become obsessed with their weight and body shape. Anyone and everyone can develop an eating disorder…

  • Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder*
  • Around 25% of those are male*
  • Recent research from the NHS information centre showed that up to 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder.

It is important to remember, eating disorders are not all about food, they're also about feelings

Eating disorders are usually a sign that something isn’t working in a person’s life. Many people use their relationship with food to meet their innate emotional needs if those needs aren’t being met adequately enough in other healthier ways. It’s natural – if some part of our life isn’t working well, our drive for survival means we will unconsciously try and meet our essential innate needs in whatever way we can. Control, for instance, is one of our nine emotional needs – the way a person interacts with food may make them feel in control and able to cope. Likewise, people may use food as a desperate attempt to replace connection, sense of achievement, etc.  And anything that brings us pleasure, can also become addictive.

But the good news is – recovery is possible…  Therapy that encourages people to find healthier, satisfying ways to meet their missing needs is more likely to result in a liberating attitude shift than therapy that focuses purely on the symptoms.

… human givens therapy has taken off the layers of unhappiness and uncovered the essence of who I really am, allowing me to feel at ease and confident — the way I felt when I was a child.”

Nina (overcame suicidal depression and anorexia)

Human Givens therapists have helped numerous adults, children and teens overcome eating disorders – as well as guiding their loved ones how to support their recovery.

Obesity – how to restore the person behind it podcast by Fiona Sheldon.

In this podcast, Fiona explores the intrinsic connection between eating behaviours and emotional disorders, including past trauma, and offers in-depth guidance on how therapists can help people struggling with these issues to find a route back to living healthy and fulfilling lives.


Useful resources

* BEAT – Statistics for Journalists, sourced 02/02/2020

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