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…

  • Eating disorders affect 1 in 50 people in the UK*
  • 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.

“Ask the Expert” podcasts

Our mental health and wellbeing podcast series features human givens professionals talking about their own specialist area of expertise. Each one offers useful information and effective tips for improving emotional health and wellbeing gleaned from their many years of experience. They include:

Eating Disorders – how to help people take back control – with Russell McKenzie

Russell McKenzie is a Human Givens therapist and has been working in a thriving private practice for the last five years. Russell is committed to helping people take back control of their lives by removing barriers and giving them the tools to be able to manage their mental health better. Throughout his therapeutic career, Russell has helped many suffering with eating disorders, more specifically bulimia and binge eating.

Working with anorexia – why we shouldn’t focus on food – with Martin Dunne

Martin is a human givens therapist, he has a successful private practice in a dedicated, multi-disciplinary holistic clinic. Martin also has extensive experience in group and individual psychotherapy with young trainees in REHAB; and currently in Ireland’s largest addiction treatment centre. Martin has worked for over 10 years helping people overcome trauma, addiction and eating disorders.

Obesity – how to restore the person behind it podcast – with 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 and 10/02/2022

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