Kate, Lisa, Harry and Sylvia met each other for the first time at a three day camp for which they had enrolled from their respective academic institutions. During the course of the three days that they spent with each other, they realized that they have significant similarities with each other, along with all the expected individual differences. While I tell you a bit about them, let me see if you can identify the similarities between them.

Kate had always been a plump child. As she grew up, she turned into the chubby teenager, always finding it difficult to lose weight. Her friend suggested that she try dieting for a few days and after Kate followed her advice, she realized that dieting was effective in helping her to lose weight. She then started restricting her food intake extremely, along with excessive exercises. She also started avoiding specific foods, skipping meals, selecting only a few foods to eat and counting calories of everything that she did eat. She also developed an immense fear of again putting on weight lest she gave up dieting, in which case, she was convinced that she would look ‘ugly’ again!

Lisa, though like Kate has always been chubby and fat, however, unlike Kate, she never found the will power to go on a diet. On the contrary, however, whenever Lisa saw a food item in front of her that she really liked, she just couldn’t stop herself from gobbling it all down! Lisa had a tendency of eating to the point beyond which she would feel that even a morsel more can make her burst. However, soon after she was done with her eating, she would be blown over with pangs of guilt, forcing her to engage in compensatory actions like forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or at times combination of these behaviors. As a result of this behavioural pattern, while Kate had a skeleton like appearance, Lisa would usually fluctuate between being normal to overweight.

Harry had a different pattern altogether. He would often go without eating through the day, but from after his last meal in the evening, Harry would often find it difficult to stop eating. He had a habit of hunting in his kitchen at night and eating whatever struck his fancy. Harry often found it difficult to sleep at night and would go on an eating spree through the night. Harry shared that he would start feeling sad from the evening and soon realized that he could only find solace in food. Because of his lifestyle, Harry is always overweight and looks sleep deprived because of numerous sleep deprived nights.

Sylvia, on learning about Harry’s pattern revealed that she also has a pattern very similar to the one that Harry has, the only point of difference being that unlike Harry, Sylvia has no fixed time for eating. She eats as and when she feels like, whatever she feels like, at any given point of day. She eats to celebrate, she eats because she feels sad, scared or anxious! Sylvia narrated that when she gets the urge to eat, she just couldn’t stop herself from eating rapidly – until she started feeling uncomfortable, consuming a large amount of food, despite not being hungry and, feeling guilty and disgusted with herself after she had finished with her overeating spree.

Do you notice a pattern that is shared by the four friends? Yes, all of them appear to be suffering from what is known as Eating Disorders, which are serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may be signs of an eating disorder. These disorders can affect a person’s physical and mental health; in some cases, they can also be life-threatening.

Kate is a clear example of Anorexia Nervosa, Lisa is a clear example of Bulimia Nervosa, Harry is a clear example of Night – Eating Syndrome and Sylvia is a clear example of Binge Eating Disorder.

Psychological treatment is an essential part of treatment for everyone with an eating disorder. It provides a chance to find out what triggers a person’s eating problems and to work out how to deal with them. There are many different types of psychological treatments which are designed to help the concerned person to understand their thinking, actions and relationships, so that he/ she can make changes that will make them less distressed and make everyday living easier.

Some of the main psychological treatments used to help people with eating disorders are:

  • Family therapy (family members work together as a team to directly manage a child’s behaviour)
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (works by teaching you to recognise your negative thoughts and beliefs and to challenge them, so that you can change your behaviour)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (focuses on the link between when and how your symptoms started and on problems you have relating to other people)
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy (focuses on uncovering what’s on your mind that you are not normally aware of).

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