Eating disorders are very complicated, frightening and difficult disorders to live with and deal with. They are extremely serious, having the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders. So, if you or if someone you know has an eating disorder then it is extremely important that you, or they begin the process of trying to get out of it. In a similar way to an addiction, when a person has an eating disorder, it becomes progressively worse, the person becomes more and more preoccupied with it to the point where it takes over their entire life, and it has very serious negative consequences (physically, socially and emotionally, and in the person’s day to day life).

By ‘eating disorders’ what we mean is Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. These eating disorders differ in terms of how the person behaves and the physical consequences. A person with Anorexia, will continually restrict their food, and as a consequence become very underweight. A person with bulimia, may eat quite normally, or diet on and off constantly, sometimes binging, and will purge (self-induced vomiting, over exercising for example) as a way of ridding themselves of the food. A person with bulimia may remain quite a normal weight for their age sex and height. A person with Binge Eating disorder, will binge eat regularly, and not purge, and as a consequence will become overweight or obese.

(Note: If you or someone you know is purging (vomiting) regularly, it is really important to get their bloods checked regularly by a GP. Regular vomiting can cause their electrolytes to become imbalanced, and potassium, which is needed for the cardiac muscle to work, has a very narrow margin of error. So a person, who looks ‘normal’ can suddenly have a cardiac incident because their potassium drops due to regular vomiting.)

It is important to be clear that although the eating disorders differ in how the person eats, and their weight, the underlying thinking, the way the person feels and relates to the world, and the drive for thinness is very similar. And let’s be clear, eating disorders can affect anyone of any age, male or female.

Eating disorders are different to other psychological disorders because they essentially take over the person’s sense of self and the person comes to feel that they have to defend and protect their eating disorder – the eating disorder becomes the person’s coping mechanism for dealing with their day to day life, and because of this, the idea of changing it, of having to change or being forced to change, the idea of letting the eating disorder go, is extremely frightening. For the person it can feel like they are being asked to give up the one thing in their life which helps them to cope. So, the person will resist any attempt to get them to change. But, we all must remember that eating disorders are life destroying. They may feel like a coping mechanism but in fact they are destroying the person’s life. While this may be very clear to those around the person, it may not feel like this for the person with the eating disorder. However, recovery is absolutely possible. It is possible to find a way of letting the eating disorder go, and finding and learning a different way of coping with life. At our centre, we understand this, and we can help you, or your child, to let this eating disorder go, and to start living life free from the all the distorted rules, and punishing thoughts.

When working with a person with an eating disorder in therapy, it is crucial that the therapist knows what they are doing and has experience working with people with eating disorders. You need to find a person that will understand the eating disorder side of your head, and will help you to deal with all the anxiety, panic, and punishing thoughts that take over whenever you try to get out from the grips of the eating disorder. At our centre, our therapists understand this. We understand the wider responsibilities also, for example the need to address the physical aspects, should they be critical. We have knowledge of the wider health care system and the different treatment approaches that have been researched as being effective when working with people with eating disorders.

If you are a parent, and you are worried about your child, do not hesitate to call and make an appointment, so that we can talk you a) what is going on with your child and how to approach the situation, b) what the options are, and c) we can provide you with the support you need to be able to support your child.

If you are a person who is worried about your eating, or if you know that you have an eating disorder, we want you to know that making an appointment with us, and starting the process of talking, is a very small first step. Nothing will suddenly change or you will not be required to suddenly change all you do. Eating disorders often stop a person from making this first step, because they make you think in an ‘all or nothing’ way, and the idea of completely changing feels overwhelming and frightening. So, we want you to know that we understand this, and that we are very clear that the space we provide can suit where you are at. We understand that you may be in two minds about getting some help, that at one moment you may feel ok about this, and in the next you may be terrified of it. So, we want you to just try it, and see what it feels like.

Link to ‘Understanding Eating Disorders’ video with Harriet Parsons.

Download Eating Disorder Services, HSE Model of Care for Ireland