Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Breaking the Cycle Between Disordered Eating and Mental Health

People need food to be healthy, and we need to be healthy to be happy. But sometimes, we can mix up the desire to be happy with the need to eat or avoid eating certain foods or eating at all. It is important that we get a handle on our relationship with food and avoid disordered eating in our everyday lives. If we don’t, then an unhealthy obsession could lead to mental health issues, and that is something we need to avoid.

If you are struggling with your relationship with food, then we are here to help. We would like to talk about the struggles of disordered eating, how it affects our mental health, and the steps that you can take to be happy and healthy.

Understanding Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

Many people have heard about or dealt with eating disorders, of which there are many types. One of the more common is anorexia, which is when someone views themselves as being overweight, so they avoid food in order to try and fit in with an unrealistic mold that the world sets forth. There is also bulimia, which is when a person eats a lot at once and uses laxatives or vomiting to then purge the food from their body. There is also binge eating (eating large amounts of food at once), pica (eating things that are not considered food), and others.

While many of us know about these conditions, few realize the repercussions of disordered eating. This is still a serious issue, but the side effects may be a bit less harsh than what we see with eating disorders. Essentially, disordered eating is when we don’t follow the typical structure of daily eating, and instead, we might eat a lot sometimes and avoid meals later on and experience chronic weight fluctuations. Disordered eating could also be as simple as feeling extreme guilt if we don’t finish all of the food on our plate and continuing to eat even when we are full, or you have general feelings of shame and guilt when you even think about food.

Many of these unorthodox eating habits can lead to physical issues, including dangerous weight loss and gain. There can also be more unknown dangers like acid reflux and GERD, which bring symptoms that include heartburn, gas and bloating, and pain and discomfort in the chest. The physical pain can lead to additional feelings of guilt, which make you want to have a stronger hold on your diet, and the cycle can continue to repeat.

Not only are these behaviors harmful to your physical health, but if left unchecked, they can also impact your mental health.

Eating and Mental Health

In order to understand your issue with disordered eating, you must first find the root of the problem. There are many reasons why we might obsess about food. In many cases, it is our culture and the movies we watch that can give us unhealthy expectations of how we should look, and from there, we could start to develop unhealthy eating patterns. Sometimes, we might hear an interview where a TV personality will explain the stickiness of their diet, and that can lead us to unhealthy obsessions like orthorexia, which is the desire to only eat pure foods.

It is important to remember that we don’t need to compare ourselves and our bodies to anyone else. We are each beautiful in our own way, and as long as you make an effort to eat healthy when you can, then you are doing just fine. People have different bodies and metabolisms, so what works for someone may be different for someone else. The point is just to be happy in your own skin.

Sometimes, disordered eating habits can form due to other issues in our lives, like stress at work or school or financial problems that make us feel like we cannot afford food or that we don’t deserve to eat. If stress is the issue, then it is important that you learn exactly what part of your life is causing your anxiety, and once you get help, you may begin to think differently, and your eating habits could stabilize. 

The point is that disordered eating and mental health are connected. If you don’t get a grasp on your eating habits, then you likely will continue to get stressed, and if you have perpetual anxiety, then you could continue to turn to poor eating. 

Getting Help

The first step to preventing disordered eating is to work on your relationship with food. Realize that you only need to eat enough food to feel satisfied and do your best from there. Try to avoid crash dieting or the diets you may learn about on TV that tell you that you should only eat certain foods and avoid others. If you starve yourself or go outside of your natural needs, then you could find yourself binging later on.

If you try to change your habits, but you still find that you are struggling, then it is important that you reach out for help. There are eating disorder therapists that you can reach out to, and they will help you to get to the root of the psychological causes behind your behavior and then help to create a plan to get you through it. A good professional will be well versed in many modalities, from enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy to cognitive remediation therapy, so they are a great resource. 

There are also many resources available online where you can get support, including the National Eating Disorders hotline and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Give them a call if you need extra support.

In the end, if you deal with some facet of disordered eating, then know that you are not alone. Remember that you are special just the way you are, that you can get past these negative feelings, and reach out for support when you need it most.