As someone who has recovered from anorexia and bulimia, and now works with women with eating disorders, I tend to keep abreast of current developments in this area.

It’s new year and I awaited the newly introduced fitness DVDs and diets. I watched two TV programs this week on losing weight and was amazed by the reason for the global obesity epidemic offered: We are eating more now than we did. OK. I understand that if we consume more calories than we burn off, then we are likely to put on weight. I also understand that people are generally less active than in the past. But this doesn’t explain why people are consuming so much more food than they are actually hungry for.

What I was hoping that one of these programs might mention was that obesity might be a result of emotional eating. We seem to be struggling more in our lives, in our mental capacity to cope with present or past issues, particularly from childhood. And we are using food as a way of trying to cope. Some people choose to use other things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. which temporarily makes them feel better.

An obese person isn’t stupid, they are aware that they are unhealthy and need to change, they are not doing it simply because they enjoy food more than someone else, they are not greedy or lazy. Obesity, the physical condition, is usually the result of a mental battle, just like an eating disorder. There are a number of eating disorders such as Binge Eating Disorder, Anorexia, Bulimia, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) plus disordered eating and emotional overeating.

Emotional overeating is described by Beat (Eating Disorder Charity) as “eating large amounts of food in response to negative emotions such as anxiety or depression rather than physical hunger. This kind of eating is used as a way of coping with, or silencing, a range of negative emotions. However the feelings of guilt and shame which follow an episode of emotional overeating usually leave the person feeling worse rather than better. As overeating can cause weight gain, over time emotional overeating can lead to further difficulties such as greater dissatisfaction with body image and diminished self esteem”.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and aren’t necessarily noticeable by others. In a lot of cases a person can be of a normal weight. No matter which eating disorder a person has, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia or emotional overeating, or whether they’re underweight, overweight or of normal weight, their head is still the same, their mind-set is still the same. They are still tortured by food, by thinking constantly about food.

We need to address, the root cause or the real reasons we use food, the traumatic stuff that has gone on for us that we are still struggling with, the negative beliefs that we have about ourselves. Those feelings of being unworthy, undeserving, unloved, inferior, not good enough. Those are the things that we need to work on, because the rest are symptoms. And the only way to permanently get rid of the symptoms is to get rid of the cause.

It’s just like anti-depressants being prescribed. There is a reason we’re depressed and medication may help us feel better temporarily but it doesn’t help with the root issues. It’s seen as a quick fix but some people stay on this medication for years. It’s no quick fix and it fixes nothing!

Going on a diet and doing more exercise may help some people for a short time, as long as our willpower holds out, but if that root stuff is still there, we’re going to go back to the same behaviours and the same patterns. I just wish that the government, the NHS would wake up and invest this money into mental health because in my opinion, it’s the best way forward, to make a real difference. Because let’s face it, in a society that is so weight and body focused, being classed as obese is not going to help us feel more positive. Is it?

I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for years and found getting help extremely difficult. I saw my GP once and was so disheartened by the way I was treated that I gave up and tried to cope alone. I continued to restrict and lost more weight so I eventually went to see my GP again and was told that I had fought it once and I could do it again. Really? How did he know this? Because I was eating? Please note: although I say ‘I went to my GP’ what I really mean is I was absolutely terrified and I shook and stuttered and had to literally force myself to sit down and talk to him. It’s scary seeking help and I couldn’t believe I was being treated like that, that I was being turned away, I felt so alone, and I thought that I had to become even thinner to be taken seriously.

I am now so pleased to say that I am recovered, but believe me, it was a long road which wasn’t helped by the attitudes of some professionals. Eating disorders are extremely complex and are not just about food, eating or weight. I just wish others could see this!

Originally published at