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Eating Disorders: All You Need To Know – & How To Prevent/Help

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ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
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Wellness & BeautyPost Category - Wellness & BeautyWellness & Beauty - Post Category - HealthHealth - Post Category - NutritionNutrition

Jax Fanucci is a holistic nutritionist, 500 Hr yoga instructor and mindfulness coach. The main goal and the purpose of her program is to help all of those individuals suffering from eating disorders and to give people the tools to live their best, healthiest and happiest lives yet (eating disorder or not).

For more information on the topics covered below visit www.jaxfanucci.com or email info@jaxfanucci.com for advice and customised meal/fitness programmes. 

My journey on this path of health, mindfulness and happiness began 11 years ago. I attended high school here in Dubai, and after a particularly rough patch of being bullied coupled with a divorce between my parents, I turned to comfort eating. I gained 30 Kgs during my last two years of high school, which of course didn’t help things along socially. Desperate to find that sense of control in a time where I felt that I had none, it was time to take my weight into my own hands. The first step was to complete my personal trainer certification, where I decided to use myself as my own little project/case study. Slowly the weight began dropping off and the compliments from others started pouring in (I had left high school by this period). I began to become addicted as the compliments started rolling in. This was the first time in my life where I was being complimented on my looks, which was totally contradictory to my teenage years.

eating-disorder

Exercising two hours every day whilst being severely undernourished, I started to feel the toll this lifestyle was taking on my body and I loved the pain! The pain of hunger, fatigue and malnutrition was a welcome distraction from an incredibly difficult home environment. By the time I realized I wasn’t in control of this lifestyle and it was controlling me I was nine years deep into my struggle with bulimia and anorexia. My ribs would break at the slightest knock, I barely had the strength to leave my room and slow liver failure had turned my skin yellow…… My mother was the catalyst in changing my life as she dragged me kicking and screaming to a psychiatrist where I was placed on some heavy medication and a treatment regime. If it hadn’t been for her strength that day, I am certain that I wouldn’t be here today.

The real game changer in my recovery process was finding yoga. The art of mindfulness, meditation and true reflection slowly built me up mentally from the inside out. My mother would come home from work during meal times to sit with me whilst I ate every meal (and 45 minutes after to make sure that I kept it down) until I felt ready and confident to do it on my own (I was 22 by this stage). Her next gift to me was my 200 hr teacher training which was where I felt every corner of my mind, body and soul not only healed but stronger and more vibrant than ever before (than I ever knew was possible).

eating-disorder-1

Three years later and I had completed my holistic nutrition degree, 500 hr yoga teacher training and began developing my program; Sweat, Stretch, Smile. I am alive today because of the strength and support of my mother. I am well aware that thousands suffering from this disease aren’t as lucky as I was having such an incredible outside source of strength, which is why I offer my support to those who need it. I began releasing youtube videos giving advice based on my experiences during recovery (the brutal things you don’t read about in the online self-help guides). I was shocked by the amounts of questions and emails which came rolling in and it truly made me aware of how many there are out there searching for help, answers and guidance.

My program is in no way only for people suffering from eating disorders, its about anyone looking to find a happy, healthy lifestyle that suits them. Remember there is no such thing as a one size fits all, which is why I work individually with clients to find what will work for them and help them thrive!

What causes an eating disorder?

Ah the age old misconception that eating disorders are solely driven by vanity couldn’t be further from the truth! The symptoms manifest themselves as physical (binge eating, comfort eating, healthy obsession, starvation, purging…..) The same way in which the symptoms of the flue can be a sore throat, fever and congestion. The eating disorder itself will never be cured until one establishes the root cause of the disease! The most common causes for the development of the disease can fall into a number of categories

Temperament

Certain traits and tendencies with in an individuals personality can increase their likely hood of developing an eating disorder e.g;

  • obsessive thinking
  • perfectionism
  • sensitivity to reward and punishment,  harm avoidance
  • neuroticism (emotional instability and hypersensitivity)
  • impulsivity, especially in bulimia nervosa
  • rigidity and excessive persistence, especially in anorexia nervosa

This category of individual benefits tremendously from mindfulness practices, and slow movement activities such as yoga. Understanding these traits and how they influence your life and life choices is the first step to recovery. The obsessive thoughts aren’t as scary when you understand where they’re coming from, and they ARE controllable!

Traumatic events (including bullying, divorce, abuse…)

Survivors of trauma often struggle with shame, guilt, body dissatisfaction and a feeling of a lack of control.  The eating disorder may become the individual’s attempt to regain control or cope with these intense emotions. In some cases, the eating disorder is an expression of self-harm or misdirected self-punishment for the trauma.  As many as 50% of those with eating disorders may also be struggling with trauma disorders.

Social pressures and ideals (media family and friends)

We live in a technological world where the people we spend the most of our time with are the ones on our instagram feed. What teens and most adults are unaware of is that all of these ‘models’ and ‘fitness influencers’ do not look the way they do on their posts 100% of the time, and this becomes their ‘benchmark’ for beauty and social status. I have personally had the #thigh gap and the #abs but that was only after a starvation process overnight and a brilliant light set up in the morning, but the second I ate a salad or steamed broccoli BOOM the abs disappeared. Ive worked with countless fitness models and on photo shoots and the same applies! The abs are only there for a moment in time.

woman looking in the mirror

Types of eating disorders, and symptoms

What exactly is classified as an eating disorder, and what are specific tell tale signs?

First things first I want to make it clear that you can not tell whether or not a person is suffering from an eating disorder based on their physical appearance! There are many different types of eating disorders all with their own little tell tales. A lot of the signs aren’t mentioned in articles online, and its only due to my past experiences as well as reflective discussions with my mother (and those closest to me during my 11 year disorder)

Anorexia

People with anorexia usually try to hide their condition.

  • They may wear bulky clothes to disguise their weight,
  • pretend to eat (or tell individuals that they’re not hungry because they’ve already eaten)
  • An obsession with exercising (and anxiety if they miss a session)…

They may lie about their weight.

  • A lot of individuals suffering from anorexia or restrictive eating develop an obsession with food, which is shown by following ‘food porn’ feeds on instagram (bookmarking tasty videos), constantly talking about food and always wanting to cook for others!
  • Social isolation. Unfortunately individuals suffering from eating disorders isolate themselves and feel ‘alienated’ from the world. The internal torture makes them feel trapped in their own minds.
  • Obsessing over reading food labels
  • Constantly commenting on other peoples physiques and bodies
  • Emotional outbursts after trying on clothes in changing rooms
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water to try satisfy hunger

Bulimia

People with bulimia nervosa binge eat, consuming a large amount of food at one sitting. They then purge by forcing themselves to vomit. Laxatives are often abused, as well. Like anorexics, bulimics may exercise compulsively in order to lose weight.

Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, with a feeling of lack of control
  • Recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • A self-esteem overly influenced by body shape and weight
  • Going to the bathroom after a meal with a large bottle of water
  • Returning from the bathroom with blood shot eyes (this was the dead give away according to my mother)
  • Drinking excessive amounts of sparkling water after a meal (this helps facilitate the purge)
  • Anxiety and fidgeting after a meal in public.
  • A fear of gaining weight, despite having a normal weight

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder is currently believed to be one of the most common eating disorders, especially in the US. Individuals with this disorder have similar symptoms to those with bulimia. This type of eating disorder is similar to comfort eating, where the person suffering has an emotional trigger to a binge.

Sufferers typically eat unusually large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time and usually feel a lack of control during binges, people with binge eating disorder do not restrict calories or use purging behaviors such as vomiting or excessive exercise to compensate for their binges.

Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating large amounts of foods rapidly, in secret and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry.
  • Feeling a lack of control during episodes of binge eating.
  • Feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust or guilt, when thinking about the binge-eating behavior.
  • No use of purging behaviors, such as calorie restriction, vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative or diuretic use, to compensate for the binging.

Orthorexia (Healthy Obsession)

I’d say that this is the most common due to todays instagram culture. Now days with #healthyrecipes #paleo and #cleaneating floating about, and making a post go viral, a lot of people lose the ability to moderate and to allow the odd cheat meal or take out on the weekend. A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. She will fixate on eating foods that give her a feeling of being pure and healthy. An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with:

  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, pesticides or genetic modification, Fat, sugar or salt, other ingredients considered to be unhealthy

Signs include

  • Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies
  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice
  • Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics
  • Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods
  • Irrational concern over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils

Other tell tale signs (EDNOS; eating disorders not other specified);

  • Feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines
  • Increase in amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Regular advance planning of meals for the next day
  • Feelings of satisfaction, esteem, or spiritual fulfillment from eating “healthy”
  • Thinking critical thoughts about others who do not adhere to rigorous diets
  • Fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with diet
  • Distancing from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food
  • Avoiding eating food bought or prepared by others
  • Worsening depression, mood swings or anxiety

How to approach someone who you believe could be suffering?

Unfortunately by the time you suspect an individual is suffering form an eating disorder, they’re already deep into the trenches of the disorder, and there is no ‘band-aid’ method. Im proof that no matter how deep into the throws of an eating disorder your child is there IS a way out! (Although it was a gory 4 year recovery process).

1)The first step is to educate yourself on the ins and outs of the disorder itself. EMPATHY is key to connecting and breaking through to your child, friend or family member! When something feels foreign to you, it is incredibly evident to the suffer and that disconnect in understanding will severely hinder the trust between you two. The individual suffering is in a state of torment and feels weak, so they need to feel that you are on this journey with them as a partner, and not some judgmental figure watching from the sidelines.

2) Gently approach the topic with your child, (never in an accusing manner!). A lot of the time parents have the tendency to point out all of the problems, but that can panic a child and make them feel even more hopeless then before! Make sure your child knows that you will work with them and explain the steps you will take to beat this thing together. When we have a game plan even the most unattainable goals feel attainable.

3) Consult a professional; before approaching your child to educate yourself, and to help set out the recovery strategy. Once again consult a professional with your child so that they have an external resource. (trust me from meal plans, to kidney and liver function you’ll need a professional guiding you along the way).

4) DO NOT COMMENT ON PHYSICAL CHANGES! words can trigger a relapse. “You look so much healthier” often equates to “you are fat.” “I am glad you look healthy again” often equates to “you are fat and don’t need to gain weight.” “You are so skinny I am worried” often equates to “losing weight is what will get people to care for me.” Don’t place any attention or emphasis on the physical appearance during the recovery process! Only the internal biological functions shown on medical tests.

Featured image via Getty Images; image 1 via Getty Images, image 2 via Getty Images, Image 3 via Getty Images

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