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What is an Eating Problem?
If you use food, lack of food or ‘purging’ (vomiting, laxative abuse or excessive exercise) to cope with painful thoughts and feelings, you may have an eating problem. The medical profession calls these ‘eating disorders’. People with eating problems often feel as if they are ‘bad’, lacking something, or defective in some way. One well-known therapist has described this as feeling like you have ‘a hole in the soul’. Some people fill their sense of emptiness with food (through bingeing); others get ‘high’ on emptiness (starvation).
Eating problems have features similar to addictive conditions, phobias and obsessive-compulsive difficulties. People with eating problems often suffer from anxiety and depression as well, and some engage in self-harming behaviours. There may or may not be a history of difficult life events or trauma. The most well-known problems are compulsive overeating, bingeing and purging (bulimia nervosa), and food-restricting or starving (anorexia nervosa). Frequently, the person doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. There are many combinations and variants but they all share common features.
Complications of Eating Problems
Eating problems, especially if they are severe, can put you at risk of medical complications, some of which are life-threatening. They may also greatly increase your risk of feeling, and acting upon, suicidal feelings. For these reasons, severe eating problems have a relatively high death rate, some in the long term and some in the short term. This makes it especially important to seek (and maintain) treatment. Despite this unhappy picture, the truth is that eating problems are like many other conditions: if you want to get well, you can.
Many people recover from eating difficulties and go on to live happy, healthy lives. Unfortunately these quiet success stories rarely attract media attention. At the Inner West Therapy Centre, we don’t share the same negative attitude to these problems that is, sadly, common to many mainstream mental health practitioners.
Very often, people need a lot of time, and a lot of support, from a team of helping professionals in order to get well. A good therapist is an essential part of this team. If you’ve been in hospital, you may have found that many inpatient units don’t provide individual counselling. Or perhaps you’ve taken part in group counselling based on cognitive behavioural (CBT) principles. These techniques may work well for some people, and for some types of eating difficulties, but they have a very poor track record in helping people with other eating problems. We tailor our therapy to you as an individual: your personality, feelings, circumstances and needs, rather than trying to make you fit into a pre-determined, one-size-fits-all program. If required, our therapist (who is also a health professional with many years experience in this area) can work in collaboration with your psychiatrist, dietician or GP.
We believe you CAN get well, even when recovery seems a long way off.