Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City
Psychotherapy & Counselling for Eating Disorders and Eating Distress....
According to current figures, eating disorders may affect up to 200,000 people in Ireland today. While the figures have previously suggested that eating disorders affect more teens than any other age category, in 2015, there was a marked increase in adults seeking support from the Irish eating disorder charity, Bodywhys. The reason for this increase is unknown, but it is evident from the figures that eating disorders are affecting people of a wide range of ages, and further, that those who are experiencing eating distress are likely to have been struggling for a long time.
An eating disorder is a distressed pattern of eating habits, in which a person may attempt to restrict food rigidly and excessively, and/or may over-exercise as a method of trying to control weight; they may binge on food and purge it afterwards through vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise, or a person’s eating distress may be expressed by binging or overeating regularly. Others may experience distressing patterns of eating that do not fit the criteria for any one eating disorder, but they are struggling also, and are in need in of support. Eating disorders are often experienced alongside other emotional issues also, such as difficulties with sexuality, obsessions and compulsions, self-harm, excessive drinking, among others.
The emotional experience behind an eating disorder can be deeply upsetting for the individual. For example, feelings of shame and guilt about being unable to control one’s eating are common, as are mood swings, feeling irritable or snapping at people, feeling alone and isolated, feeling anxious and/or depressed, having difficulty with conflict or confrontation, and experiencing low self-esteem and harsh self-criticism. Some of these may have been present before the person developed a problem with eating, but are compounded by both the psychological impact of the eating disorder, and the physical effects of starvation or lack of adequate nutrition.
People who experience eating disorders have difficulty verbalising and processing their emotions, and so they frequently struggle in developing or maintaining a clear sense of self. It is likely that they are very sensitive to other people’s emotions and may tend to take responsibility for these, at the expense of tending to their own emotional experience. While an eating disorder appears to be about food and weight, at a deeper level, it is not. An eating disorder can be seen as a communication of the deeper emotional struggle, an attempt to cope with the sense of depletion that occurs when unable to process and regulate our emotions, and a clear sign that support is needed. If you are experiencing eating problems counselling/psychotherapy can support you in exploring your emotional life, help you to identify your areas of struggle and problems with authentic self-expression, and collaborate with you to find more self-supportive ways of being, so that the eating disorder is no longer needed.