Starv­ing your­self or binge­ing – they’re both eat­ing dis­or­ders that can do long-term dam­age to your health. Here’s what you need to know


EAT­ING dis­or­ders are not usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with van­ity but they have been linked to me­dia stereo­types of “ideal” body types. The stereo­typ­i­cal images of beauty in the me­dia of­ten aren’t rea­lis­tic and don’t reflect ave­rage body size and the va­ri­ety of body types in real life.

This con­trib­utes to un­healthy, warped at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour to­wards food that can become a se­ri­ous prob­lem. Anorexia ner­vosa, for ex­am­ple, has the high­est death rate of all men­tal-health con­di­tions.

Less stigma is as­so­ci­ated with the con­di­tion as more celebri­ties are ope­ning up about their chal­lenges.

Ac­tress Gabourey Sidibe wrote in her mem­oir of her strug­gle with bu­limia as a way to over­come de­pres­sion.

She said she only ate when she was ready to throw up, which was a dis­trac­tion from what­ever was go­ing on in­side her head.

Ac­tress Zoë Kravitz has also spo­ken about suf­fer­ing from anorexia and bu­limia as a teenager, which she at­trib­uted to the celeb life­style she grew up in.

She said she found it hard to love her­self be­ing sur­rounded by a lot of beau­ti­ful peo­ple, in­clud­ing her mom, sit­com star Lisa Bonet, and dad, singer Lenny Kravitz.

But th­ese dis­or­ders are not just linked to star­dom – any­one can de­velop them. And the South African So­ci­ety of Psy­chi­a­trists says the causes go beyond food and a dis­torted sense of body im­age – the dis­or­der can be a re­sult of long-term un­re­solved emo­tional is­sues.

Each suf­ferer’s story tends to be dif­fer­ent.

Re­search also indicates that the stereo­type of eat­ing dis­or­ders only af­fect­ing young women no longer holds up. Teenage boys and young men are inc­reas­ingly at risk, although many do not come for­ward for treat­ment.

Let’s take a closer look.


An eat­ing dis­or­der is de­fined as us­ing food to sat­isfy emo­tional needs rather than to sat­isfy phys­i­cal hunger. It can de­velop dur­ing any stage of life.

Kathy Henke­mans, a reg­is­tered di­eti­cian, says it’s fine to oc­ca­sion­ally use food as a re­ward or to cel­e­brate, but it’s problemati­c when do­ing so be­comes routine.

“If your first im­pulse is to open the re­frig­er­a­tor when­ever you’re stressed, up­set, angry, lonely, ex­hausted or bored, you will get stuck in an un­healthy cycle where the real feel­ing or prob­lem is never ad­dressed,” Henke­mans ex­plains.

Dr Diana Monama, a Pre­to­ria-based psy­chol­o­gist, says eat­ing dis­or­ders co­ex­ist with men­tal ill­nesses and psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues may lead to eat­ing dis­or­ders if not ad­dressed.

“Eat­ing dis­or­ders are caused by psyc­ho­log­i­cal chal­lenges.

“Is­sues such as poor self- es­teem, dys­func­tional fam­ily dy­nam­ics and the per­cep­tion of loss of con­trol over one’s life have been known to con­trib­ute to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of eat­ing dis­or­ders,” she says.


Here are the most com­mon eat­ing dis­or­ders:

Binge eat­ing Peo­ple suf­fer­ing from this eat in se­cret and can’t stop un­til they are un­com­fort­ably full. Ru­mi­na­tion dis­or­der Suf­fer­ers – usu­ally an in­fant or young child but also adults – bring back up and re-chew par­tially di­gested food that has al­ready been swal­lowed.

Adults are more likely to spit out re­gur­gi­tated food and chil­dren are more likely to rechew and reswal­low it.

Purg­ing dis­or­der Peo­ple suf­fer­ing from this con­trol their weight gain by vom­it­ing af­ter eat­ing or us­ing lax­a­tives. Bu­limia ner­vosa is char­ac­terised by both binge­ing and purg­ing.

Pica Suf­fer­ers have the urge to eat non- food sub­stances and crave things such as soil, hai r and even laun­dry de­ter­gent. Anorexia ner­vosa Suf­fer­ers have an in­tense fear of gai­ning weight and a dis­torted per­cep­tion of weight. They have an ab­nor­mally low body weight and con­stantly mo­ni­tor their weight and feel over­weight, even when they’re un­der­weight.


Eat­ing dis­or­ders are some­times re­ferred to as si­lent dis­or­ders, as suf­fer­ers are not al­ways aware of the signs and symp­toms. Dr Monama de­scribes poor body im­age, self-star­va­tion, an ob­ses­sion with thin­ness, out-of-con­trol eat­ing and self-induced vom­it­ing as the most com­mon in­di­ca­tions that you have an eat­ing dis­or­der. She says you should also look out for the fol­low­ing signs: With­drawal from friends and fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly if they ques­tion vis­i­ble phys­i­cal changes. Avoid­ance of meals or sit­u­a­tions where food may be present. Pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with weight, body size and shap e or spe­cific as­pects of your ap­pear­ance. Ob­sess­ing about kilo­joule in­take and kilo­joules burnt through exer­cise, even when los­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of weight. Hav­ing no con­trol over your re­la­tion­ship with food.


A lot of women fall prey to so­ci­etal pres­sures when it comes to what is seen as the ac­cept­able weight, size and shape and some then starve themselves with the hope of los­ing weight and fit­ting the stereo­type. Dr Monama urges you to seek pro­fes­sional help if you have is­sues with your phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance which cause you to have an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with food. “Seek help should you de­velop low self-es­teem due to your weight. “You can also go for psy­cho­ther­apy ( the treat­ment of men­tal dis­or­ders by psy­cho­log­i­cal rather than med­i­cal means) to deal with the is­sues,” she ad­vises. Henke­mans says it’s pos­si­ble to over­come bad eat­ing habits no mat­ter how pow­er­less you may feel about your re­la­tion­ship with food and you can do this by be­ing mind­ful of your life­style choices.

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