What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a name given to a condition in which a man or woman’s body weight is at least 15% below what is regarded as a healthy weight for their height, due to an intense fear of ‘fatness’ or weight gain. Those affected by AN may not think that they have a problem, but may see themselves as overweight even though others around them see them as very thin. People with AN restrict their calorie intake to well below their nutritional requirements and may compensate intake with increased activity or purging.
Low body weight impacts on people’s ability to function psychologically, socially and physically. People become more and more isolated, lethargic and ill. Their life becomes increasingly restricted and eventually they may stop doing the things that have been important to them. Low body weight can result in long term health problems, for example ’brittle bone disease’ and infertility.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
People who have bulimia nervosa (BN) have a similar relationship with weight and shape as people with AN. However, people with BN alternate between periods of binge eating and periods of starvation and/or vomiting or using laxatives. Bodyweight in people with BN is usually in the normal to overweight range.
The impact of BN on people’s life is often immense. People describe uncontrollable urges to eat vast amounts of food which can lead to mood swings, anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, shame, guilt and feeling helpless and isolated.
What are atypical eating disorders?
Some people have some but not all the features associated with AN or BN. They may then be diagnosed as having an ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS) or an ‘atypical eating disorder’. One atypical eating disorder is, for example, binge eating disorder.
I supervise a support group for people with eating disorders called BHEDs in Brighton and Hove and have worked extensively with people with food related issues such as anorexia and bulimia. Counselling can make such a difference to understanding what is causing such addictive behaviour and how we can take steps to change it.