Relationship with Food

Do you have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?

Eating is a required action we all share as a means to maintain our health.  There are those who struggle with eating due to a medical condition, but there are others who struggle with a medical condition due to their eating disorder. 

General statistics indicate that at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S., and at least one person dies every 62 minutes as a direct result from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are a serious medical problem that can have long-term health consequences if left untreated.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness of which adolescents and women over 50 are more prevalent.  

There are several types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia Nervosa or a focus on weight loss in which the individual has a poor body image and believes they are never thin enough, prompting excessive dieting, exercise, purging or use of laxatives.
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or restrictive eating or avoiding certain foods because of its texture or odor.  These symptoms usually begin early in childhood.
  • Bulimia Nervosa or the cycling of extreme overeating or binging to purging or other behaviors to compensate for overeating. 
  • Binge Eating Disorder or excessive overeating

An unhealthy relationship with food is oftentimes a symptom of an underlying problem.  Usually, it is prompted by various life stressors combined with psychological struggles, such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and/or overall difficulty coping with emotions.  Overuse of substances, genetic traits or a having a family pre-disposition can also be contributors. Oftentimes, those with an eating disorder initially use eating, or lack thereof, as a way to control at least one aspect of their lives.  However, their eating behavior progressively spirals out of control and they end up not being able to manage their own eating. 

Treatment is complicated.  You may have a friend or relative that has an eating disorder, but do not even know it.  Oftentimes, those with eating problems hide their behaviors and deny having a problem, interfering in their first step in treatment; admitting they have a problem.  Mostly, individual or group out-patient or in-patient psychotherapy and possibly psychotropic medications are required to work through the denial, comply with a food monitoring plan, and deal with secondary symptoms of depression, anxiety, etc., through stress management, modification of unhealthy relationship patterns and learning adaptive ways to feel in control of their eating and other aspects of their lives.  Unfortunately, symptoms of an eating disorder can last for many years and return during times of stress, despite previous treatment.  Catch yourself if you have an unhealthy relationship with food.  There is too much at stake.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

St. Williams Mental Health