5 Tips to Overcome Eating Disorders Naturally
It's a sad reality that we have a growing societal problem of masses of people succumbing to drug and medical addictions to get through every day life.
Similarly - and much less talked about - is the ever-increasing issue of people who turn to 'food' (or lack thereof) as a response or solution to some type of emotional hardship or deep-seated suffering. This also becomes an addiction.
This pattern can form at a very young age due to a traumatic life experience, usually ignited from a particular event or some form of personal neglect.
Food becomes an outlet for 'comfort' in these cases, made worse when it turns into an addiction to the chemical compounds and empty calories that make up processed foods and drinks.
The other side of the spectrum, is where food becomes a 'binging tool' in response to an internal conflict, usually to do with some form of self-loathing.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Unrealistic images through "glossy advertising", "social media", "celebrity culture” and false promises by "miracle pill-pushers" have all created a mass obsession with physical appearance and body weight, which is one of the main reasons why so many develop various types of “eating disorders”.
Recent studies have concluded, "Eating disorders are most prevalent in the western culture where food is in abundance and female attractiveness is equated with thinness".
However, this is an issue that impacts Men as well.
All kinds of eating disorders include unhealthy attitudes toward food and a poor self-image, and they can all spiral dangerously out of control.
Despite how it may appear, eating disorders are not 'poor lifestyle choices', but deeply engrained emotional issues that lead to obsessive preoccupations that simply relate to food.
Although people might not officially be “diagnosed” with an eating disorder, the signs are usually obvious when someone has an unhealthy relationship to food.
Even though the most influential period where eating disorders are likely to form is during adolescence, it can develop at any stage of life as a form of "self-medicating" to deal with any kind of anxiety, stress, loss, depression, physical or emotional challenges.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Being complex by nature, eating disorders are usually a result of a combination of different factors relating to societal or family upbringing, loss, bullying, abandonment, or some other form of psychological or emotional trauma.
The person with the disorder may not even be able to pinpoint the cause of their illness, unless they work with someone who is able to help them uncover the source of conflict that has lead them to choose food as a vehicle to deal with their pain.
Often eating disorders can be attributed to a need for control and the basic need to feel loved and accepted.
A Sign of the Times
Mass media and popular culture have a lot to answer for in terms of contributing to the rise in the prevalence of eating disorders in recent decades.
Daily we’re inundated with images of thin “beautiful women” and defined “hot guys” via advertisements on TV, billboards, social media and magazines. The truth is though this modern “standard of beauty” is not genuine and actually quite different to natural and historical reference points.
Fat is a sign of fertility. The soft roundness of a woman’s belly, breasts, hips and thighs are a sign that she is a fertile adult.
This soft, female roundedness has been considered attractive and desirable in most cultures throughout most of human history.
Fat was once called “the silken layer.”
The Victorians associated plumpness with health, attractiveness and a happy outlook.
These days ultra-skinny models weigh 25% less than the average American woman.
Models in magazines and in online media can look very different in real life due to lighting, clothing, make-up, photo re-touching and other special effects that contribute to an unreal look.
Surveys show that women tend to be much more critical of other women’s bodies than men are, yet women are held to these unrealistic ideals that are not really representative of what men actually find attractive.
If Barbie the doll were a human, she would probably have to crawl on all fours, because her tiny feet could not support her long legs and oversized chest!
Now too, men more than ever are also succumbing to the onslaught of “ideal body" images perpetuated by the media, except they tend to portray men as hunky zero-body-fat beefcakes.
‘Manorexia’ is a name given to men who have an ongoing preoccupation with their bodies to the point where it becomes an unhealthy obsession.
On the flip side, there are millions of Men who turn to food as a way of seeking comfort to deal with stress, emotional trauma, or simply because it's an easier outlet that dealing the problem of being unhealthy or overweight.
Types of Eating Disorders
These are the three most common types of eating disorders:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where sufferers have a distorted body image and fear of being fat and as a result, will starve themselves and or exercise excessively.
People with anorexia nervosa are unhealthily underweight but actually, think they are “fat”.
Despite how it seems, anorexia itself is not really about the food, it’s actually a dysfunctional way of coping with emotional issues where an anorexic person’s self-worth is based upon being thin.
Sadly anorexia has the highest death rate of all mental/emotional disorders as a result of prolonged and sustained food restriction leading to starvation, malnourishment and associated complications.
Symptoms & Warning Signs:
- Extreme weight loss
- Negative or distorted body image
- Lying about food consumption
- Strict rules & routines around eating
- Counting calories, avoiding foods or only eating a small selection of “safe” foods
- Withdrawing socially
- Obsessing about appearing thin or not being fat
- Compulsive weighing or body checking with a mirror
- Mood swings
- Impaired school or work performance
- Not wanting to admit being hungry
Of all the known eating disorders, binge eating is probably the most common.
Most people with binge eating disorder are obese. But even normal-weight people also can be affected by this disease.
People with binge eating disorder feel a loss of control over their eating and frequently eat large amounts of food. This disorder is different from binge-purge syndrome, which is known as bulimia nervosa. People with binge eating disorder usually do not purge afterwards by vomiting or using laxatives.
Most of us overeat from time to time, and many people feel they frequently eat more than they should.
Eating large amounts of food, however, does not mean that a person has binge eating disorder. Doctors are still debating the best ways to determine if someone has binge eating disorder, but have found that most people with serious binge eating problems have:
- Frequent episodes of eating what others would consider an abnormally large amount of food;
- Frequent feelings of being unable to control what or how much is being eaten.
Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety or other negative emotions can trigger a binge episode. Impulsive behaviour and certain other psychological problems may be more common in people with binge eating disorder.
The major complications of binge eating disorder are the diseases that accompany obesity.
Symptoms & Warning Signs:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Periods of out-of-control, impulsive or non-stop eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full
- Intentionally avoiding social gatherings
- Gorging in secret to hide the issue
- Missing work, school or social activities in order to binge eat
- Embarrassment & shame over physical appearance
- Self-harm or suicide attempts
Bulimia is when a person eats but later throws up the food.
It's also called bulimia nervosa, which is a medically defined, psychological eating disorder. Bulimia is characterised by episodes of binge-eating followed by, “inappropriate” methods of weight control, such as vomiting or excessive use of laxatives and diuretics.
A binge is an episode where an individual eats a much larger amount of food than most people would in a similar situation. It is often mistaken that binge eating is not a response to intense hunger. Contrarily, it is usually a response to depression, stress or self-esteem issues.
During the binge episode, the individual experiences a loss of control. However, the sense of a loss of control is also followed by a short-lived calmness. The calmness is often followed by self-loathing due to the judgment of people who vomit. The cycle of overeating and purging usually becomes an obsession and is repeated often. Bulimics also usually obsess over excessive shape and weight.
It is often difficult to determine whether a person is “suffering” from Bulimia because binging and purging is often done in secret. In fact, quite the opposite is true for most suffering from bulimia, who usually feel a natural high from it. Kind of like the cat who ate the mouse.
Symptoms & Warning Signs:
- Difficulties & issues with food-related activities
- Self-imposed isolation & loneliness
- Fear of judgement & disapproval
- Frequent trips to the toilet or bathroom, especially after eating
- Food avoidance & dieting behaviours
Physical Effects of Eating Disorders
The dangers include dental problems, heart problems, malnutrition, an increased risk for such diseases as diabetes and arthritis and even death. Thousands of girls and women die of eating disorders each year. Other negative effects include:
- Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies
- Abnormal buildup of fluid in the intestines
- Disruption in the normal bowel release function
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Irregular heartbeat and in severe cases heart attack
- A greater risk for suicidal behaviour
Tips for Overcoming Eating Disorders Naturally
Due to the serious nature and complexity of eating disorders, more often than not several courses of action are required to overcome the illness.
The tips below are a starting point and other “interventions” may also be necessary:
1) Recognition & Acceptance
The first and most crucial step is the person's willingness to acknowledge that there's a problem.
Without this, no matter how much a friend or loved one may wish to help, it's going to be difficult for the necessary changes to be made.
Often it will take a realisation that some type of greater pain or trauma will occur if they don't make the change...like, "they won't get to see their kids or grandchildren grow up", "they won't have the energy or health to enjoy everything they've worked for.
2) Family & Friends
Support from family and friends is probably one of the most helpful ways and important factors to assist the person to heal and get better.
They can help by:
- Providing love, emotional support, compassion & empathy
- Addressing dysfunctional family/friendship dynamics & behaviour that could be contributing to self-worth or self-esteem issues
- Talking through any thoughts & feelings related to the disorder
- Monitoring eating habits & routines
- Setting limits & boundaries
- Helping them to identify other more healthy 'outlets' or 'hobbies' that take away their focus from food.
It’s important to remember that no-one is to blame for eating orders occurring but everyone can do their bit to help in the process of recovery.
3) Support Groups & Professional Help
Being in the company of others who have either overcome or are in the process of overcoming eating disorders can be extremely beneficial.
Having the ability to listen to and talk through experiences and feelings in a group setting can serve as a type of therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviours into healthier more positive ones.
It can also provide a sense of hope, motivation and inspiration to recover by speaking with and being coached by those who have recovered successfully themselves.
Addressing the underlying emotional issues is a key component of support groups as well as professional counselling because getting to the root cause is key to not only stopping eating disorder but also prevent them from reoccurring further down the track.
There are therapists in most cities who specialise in eating disorders who can professionally help eating disorder sufferers to address and heal from traumatic life events as well as teach healthier coping skills. They can also teach ways to better express emotions, handle stress, communicate and maintain relationships.
4) Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
Shifting the dietary focus from heavy, processed and refined foods is a key to overcoming any type of eating disorder.
Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds and Grains contain the nutrition that will nourish the cells and brain in a way that it will gradually ease out the emotional imbalances that heighten the effects of eating disorders.
It will also help the body find its ideal healthy weight, gradually giving the individual confidence in themselves and their overall relationship to food.
This fact may also lead a to a better relationship to food and eating habits and assist with stopping the ‘diet mentality’.
Boosting consumption of whole foods high in the amino acid ‘Tryptophan’ is known to help serotonin levels which influence mood and sleep and can encourage increased feelings of self-esteem.
Some of the best choices include:
- Orange and Yellow Fruits and Vegetables
- Nuts and Seeds
- Soybeans & Tofu
- Beans, Lentils & Legumes.
Learn more in my blog, Top 7 Reasons to Embrace a Plant-Based Diet & How to Do It
5) Improve Self-Esteem & Self-Worth
As mentioned above, issues surrounding self-esteem and self-worth are commonly at the core of most eating disorders. As a result, partaking in activities which boost both of these as well as other positive emotions can help. These can include things like:
- Spending time in nature e.g. hiking or biking.
- Playing a musical instrument
- Journal writing
- Meditation, yoga & tai chi
- Joining a sports team or hobby group
- Anything creative like arts & crafts