on Eating Disorders

Unexpected symptoms or “Co-Morbid” Symptoms

Self harm

It didn’t mean my daughter wanted to die, which was my first thought

Self harm can be an unexpected part of someone who is coping with an eating disorder.
It can take many forms from scratching to cutting. This may be how your loved one copes with feelings around the eating disorder. It is understandable. Your loved one may need encouragement to find a healthier way to manage their distress (see skills area).

This can be something you can discuss with the professional involved in your loved ones care.

If you have immediate concerns about self harm or suicidal thoughts contact NHS 24 (call 111 or click here to visit the website) or go to A&E with your loved one.
Click the following links for further reading:

Low Mood and Depression

Unfortunately, low mood goes hand in hand with eating disorders. Low mood may have pre dated the eating disorder or it may be a consequence of your loved one being in a starved state. It could even be part of their recovery; accepting and dealing with changes in the body, returning to education, learning how to manage food normally again.
Knowing when low mood is something that may need treatment within itself can be tricky. More information on low mood and depression can be found by clicking here on the NHS website.

Discuss this with the clinicians involved in your loved one’s care if you have any concerns.

Some people with an eating disorder, particularly anorexia, often comment they are “numb” from emotions. The eating disorder may act as a buffer from difficult emotions including sadness, loneliness and even happiness.

Aggression & Violence

Aggression and violence is something that may occur pre, post and during meals, especially when the eating disorder is being challenged. It is normal to see some levels of anger and even aggression which may be a change to your loved ones usual presentation. Often this can be somewhat healthy, releasing emotions and feelings. Sometimes these can be related to the absolute destruction the eating disorder is causing your loved one’s life and anger that this has happened to them, the helplessness of not being able to fix it quickly or it may be more related to the eating disorder being challenged and the fear and frustration this can cause.

However violence or extremely destructive behaviour, although it may happen, is not acceptable. As a parent you will be able to use your judgement on when an eating disorder oversteps the mark. You can find more information about violence and eating disorders by clicking on the FEAST website and the Maudsley Parents website.

The quote below is from a Beat Young Ambassador who explains how  it felt to have an eating disorder, how anger impacted them and how it felt to be angry. Often, anger and aggression is something that young people can feel guilty about as they recovery as it can often be a contrast to their usual self. It’s good to remember that being angry and frustrated at having developed an eating disorder and then trying to recovery from it, is normal. It is totally understandable to be angry.

“I didn’t want my eating disorder. I never chose to have this. This snuck into my life and swept everything away from my perfect little life so quickly. It came so fast and stayed so long. Anger and frustration was one of the hardest emotions I had to deal with. Anger can turn anybody into a violent monster. I had so much anger. It came in bursts, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. The monster that I would turn into scared me. I was violent and abusive. Everything that was against my nature. Anorexia made my relationship with my mum extremely intense. I can only admire the love that she held for me, her child, that helped her to endure the pain that I, and anorexia was putting her and the rest of her children through.”
Sarah, Beat Young Ambassador

Obsessive Compulsive Symptoms Outside of Food & Meals

Some young people with eating disorders may experience obsessions outside of meals due to feeling overwhelmed with anxieties they have or they may have co-morbid Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD is driven by feelings, sensations or intrusive thoughts (compulsions) that lead the person to carry out the routine or ritual like behaviour. They may feel and believe if they do not carry out these routines or rituals, something bad might happen. This thought or feeling is an overwhelming negative feeling. Usually the thoughts surround fear of things such as germs, losing things or harm to themselves or loved ones.

A person with OCD will feel apprehensive or uneasy and the use of repetitive behaviours alleviates the anxiety however also maintains it.
These routines and beliefs can be around:

  • Teeth brushing, flossing and examining things in long routines and patterns
  • Specific morning or evening routines that often have to be repeated if they do not go as planned
  • Symmetry, order and arrangements of items
  • Hoarding specific items
  • Repetitive counting, tapping or chanting words
  • Repetitive checking of watches, locks, switches etc.

These patterns may increase as the eating disorder is being challenged more and more. Discuss any patterns that you are noticing at home with the clinician involved in your loved one’s care to make them aware of the situation.

Developmental Regression

It may feel like your loved one has regressed. You are having to feed them all over again and make decisions around food and activities, they may be “throwing tantrums” and behaving in ways that you would not expect from a teenager or older young person. They may want to be with you all the time or not at all.

As a parent or carer,  it may feel difficult treating your loved one in a way that you feels undermines their age. It may feel difficult recognising when behaviour is “normal” or “eating disordered”. It may even feel like you are challenging yourself regarding your own parenting ability.

Eating disorders can impact on development of young people as often eating disorder can prevent them from experiencing “normal” life and all the challenges this can bring about. Often this can result in young person with an eating disorder finding it difficult to navigate social life in recovery – and after – as they may have missed out on parties, independence and some normal “risk taking” as part of developing themselves. This can often be one of the unfortunate consequences of eating disorder and the path towards recovery.

Part of treatment often addresses development and will encourage your loved to engage in “normal” life and catch up on any developmental delay.

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