Frequently asked questions
What is an eating disorder?
In a general sense, eating disorders are experienced as disturbing thoughts about their eating habits, and are accompanied by physical and emotional distress. They lead to a deterioration of physical and psychological well-being, and ultimately can cause death. To understand what an eating disorder means for the person experiencing these difficulties, it is more helpful to think of the eating disorder as something that a person has developed, in order to feel that they can cope with their lives. However, the more the person relies on the eating disorder to cope, the more they need the eating disorder to cope, and very quickly they spiral into a situation where they feel they will only be able to cope and live if they hold onto the eating disorder. The person's sense of who they are comes to depend on them holding onto the eating disorder and this is why it is so difficult and terrifying for a person to think about letting go of the eating disorder. Therefore, while it is clear to everyone else that the person is harming his / herself, the only way the person with the eating disorder feels they can survive is by maintaining the eating disorder.
Are there degrees of eating disorders?
What causes an eating disorder?
Can you fully recover from an eating disorder?
How do I support someone who is experiencing an eating disorder? What can I do?
It is extremely important to support someone who has an eating disorder and is going through the recovery process. People often experience confusion, frustration, and desperation as they witness a person they care for experiencing the difficulties and set-backs that are a natural part of the recovery process. The person in recovery is facing the task of re-learning how to cope and live their life without using disordered eating behaviors. This can be extremely difficult and frightening for them. Therefore recovery often occurs slowly and why the role of supporting strugglers is so vital. There are a few things to remember about supporting someone: try to accept the person as they are and show your willingness to be there for them; listen to their needs without judgement and without trying to fix or problem solve. Let the person know that you love them and value them for who they are. Communicate a belief that recovery is possible and your belief in their ability to recover. Take the focus away from food and eating and bring it to how the person is feeling. Communicate an appreciation of the energy it takes to struggle with an eating disorder. This same energy is the person's most valuable resource for recovery. It is also very important not to put the needs for the person you are trying to support above your own needs. Looking after your own needs first not only models healthy behavior but will put you in a stronger position to be of support to them.
I am concerned about someone who may have an eating disorder, what should I do?
How do I know if I have an eating disorder?
The following are a few questions you may ask yourself to try and answer this question: Do you feel that the way you eat and behave around food is dependent on how you feel about yourself, on your emotional state? (Are you using food to make yourself feel better?) What behaviors are you engaging in that lead you to ask this question? Do you feel trapped into your behaviors around food and eating? Maybe it's not about getting an answer, but something prompted you to look up this website. What do you feel you need to do for yourself right now?
My child is a picky eater. Does this mean he/she has an eating disorder?
Many children are fussy eaters and come to use food as a currency in their relationship with their parents and caregivers. This does not necessarily mean that they have an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a manifestation of something that the child is experiencing as difficult or overwhelming at an emotional level. The child copes with a difficulty by controlling food intake. It is useful then for a parent who is concerned about the way their child is eating to try to bring a focus on how their child is feeling rather than on what their child is or is not eating. Creating a safe atmosphere to explore feelings will be of huge benefit to the child who feels unable to express what they are feeling without resorting to eating behaviors as a means of doing this. If a parent has any concerns they should visit a GP and remember that early intervention of a supportive nature is very beneficial.
My child seems to be preoccupied with dieting, do they have an eating disorder?
There are many people who are preoccupied with dieting in today's world, and not all of these people have an eating disorder. However, if you are concerned there are a few things to think about which may give you a clearer understanding of whether or not your child has an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a manifestation of something that the child is experiencing as difficult or overwhelming at an emotional level. The child copes with a difficulty by controlling food intake. It is useful then for a parent who is concerned about the way their child is eating to try to bring a focus on how their child is feeling rather than on what their child is or is not eating. Creating a safe atmosphere to explore feelings will be of huge benefit to the child who feels unable to express what they are feeling other than through their eating habits. If a parent has any concerns they should visit a doctor and remember that early intervention of a supportive nature is very beneficial. Do you feel that the way your child eats or diets depends on her / his emotional state? Is she dieting to make herself feel better? Are there issues about body image that could be talked about and addressed? Do you feel your child is trapped into a dieting cycle? How would your child be if she were not able to diet? Are you aware of what was going on in your child's life when she began to get preoccupied with dieting, and has this preoccupation intensified since then? These are all questions that will help you to gain a better understanding of the role that food (and eating / not eating) is playing in your child's life. There would be concern around an eating disorder if your child is depending on food and body control to feel ok about herself / himself.
What role does the media play in causing eating disorders?
My daughter has lost a lot of weight and has been diagnosed with anorexia. Why can't she just eat?
Do men/boys get eating disorders too?
I have just discovered my son has been making himself sick after meals. He doesn't know that I know. What should I do?
The question to ask yourself is what do you feel is the right course of action for you to take right now? In some ways, the fact that he doesn't know that you know, gives you some time to think through how you are going to handle this situation. This is a delicate issue. Rushing into reacting may cause your son to retreat and defend his behaviors more. Before approaching him about this, you might find it helpful to read through our information on approaching someone. This will allow you time to think through how you can approach the situation in as constructive and supportive a manner as possible. Before you approach your son, inform yourself as much as possible about eating disorders. Your son may be experiencing feelings of shame around his behaviors and it will be important that you approach him in as gentle and safe a way as possible. Try to view your son's behavior as a way he has developed of coping. It then becomes possible for you to understand to what extent it will be important for him that this coping mechanism isn't threatened by how you approach him. So, it is about trying to dialogue with him in such a way that he feels he can talk to you about why he is doing this at the moment. Eating disorders are manifestations of underlying emotional distress. The most important thing for him will be that he feels listened to and not judged. Try to accept him where he is at, and to focus on how he is feeling rather than what he is doing. If you think it would help, you can contact Magen Avrohom for further guidance. They can provide you with a space to explore your own feelings which can put you in a better position to be the non- judgmental listener that your son needs you to be at this time.
I am a teacher in a school and I am concerned about a particular pupil. What should I do?
The first thing you can do as a teacher is to inform yourself of the issues that can be involved when a person develops an eating disorder. Early intervention in eating disorders greatly improves the outcome. It is important for you to take clear concise notes of the incidents and observed behaviors that have led you to believe there is a problem. Although you cannot "diagnose" what the issue is with the pupil in question, your notes will assist a health professional in the assessment and diagnostic process should this need arise. It is important that you share your concerns with the school counsellor, or the person in charge of pastoral care. Then decide who is the most appropriate person to approach the young person and his / her family.