Issues with Food and Body Image

  • Both men and women struggle with their body image and this battle can become so great that you start to believe that everything would be okay– you would be loved, you would be popular and successful and most importantly, you would be happy if only you could control this one thing in your life – your eating!
  • Issues with food can take many guises, the Anorexic who tries everything not to eat, starving and exercising to extremes, the bulimic who starves then binges then purges, the over-eater who cannot control their intake of food and the binge eater, who tries to ‘be good’ but sometimes loses control and binges. For those with eating disorders food is strongly linked to emotions – when you’re sad you eat, when you’re bored you eat, when you’re angry you eat. When you feel fat, you eat to comfort yourself and so the cycle continues……
  • Food Issues that result in eating disorders are frequently categorised into three types: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Over eating.


  • Anorexia is characterized by a significant weight loss resulting from excessive dieting. Most women and an increasing number of men are motivated by the strong desire to be thin and a fear of becoming obese.
  • Anorexics usually strive for perfection. They set very high standards for themselves and feel they always have to prove their competence.
  • A person with anorexia may also feel the only control they have in their lives is in the area of food and weight. If they can't control what is happening around them, they can control their weight.
  • They feel powerful and in control when they can make themselves lose weight. Sometimes focusing on calories and losing weight is their way of blocking out feelings and emotions. For them, it's easier to diet then it is to deal with their problems directly.
  • They usually resist any attempts to help them because the idea of therapy is seen only as a way to force them to eat. Once they admit they have a problem and are willing to seek help, they can be treated effectively through a combination of psychological, nutritional and medical care.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Excessive exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Always being cold
  • Muscle weakness
  • Obsession with food, calories, recipes
  • Excuses for not eating meals (i.e. ate earlier, not feeling well)
  • Unusual eating habits (i.e. cutting food into tiny pieces, picking at food)
  • Noticeable discomfort around food
  • Complaining of being "too fat", even when thin
  • Cooking for others, but not eating themselves
  • Restricting food choices to only diet foods
  • Guilt or shame about eating
  • Depression, irritability, mood swings
  • Evidence of vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills or diuretics to control weight
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss
  • Frequently checking weight on scale
  • Fainting spells and dizziness
  • Difficulty eating in public

Physical/Medical Complications

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Amenorrhea(loss of menstruation)
  • Skin problems
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Bloating/ Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach pains
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Edema (water retention)
  • Lanugo(fine downy hair)
  • Loss of bone mass
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Anemias
  • Infertility
  • Depression


  • Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging to try and rid the body of unwanted calories. A binge is different for all individuals. For one person a binge may range from 1000 to 10000 calories, for another, one cookie may be considered a binge.
  • Purging methods usually involve vomiting and laxative abuse. Other forms of purging can involve excessive exercise, fasting, use of diuretics, diet pills and enemas.
  • Bulimics are usually people that do not feel secure about their own self worth. They usually strive for the approval of others. They tend to do whatever they can to please others, while hiding their own feelings. Food becomes their only source of comfort. Bulimia also serves as a function for blocking or letting out feelings. Unlike anorexics, bulimics do realize they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Episodes of binging and Purging
  • Episodes of starving the body of food
  • Obsession with body weight and size
  • Noticeable discomfort around food
  • Eating more food than normal
  • Repeated attempts at dieting
  • Discomfort about eating in front of others
  • Repeated use of laxatives and diuretics
  • Poor body image
  • Depression and Irritability
  • Rashes and pimples
  • Small cuts and calluses across the tops of finger joints due to self-induced vomiting
  • Pouch-like appearance to the corners of the mouth due to swollen salivary glands (occurs within days of vomiting in about 8% of people with bulimia)

Medical Complications:

  • Erosion of tooth enamel because of repeated exposure to acidic gastric contents.
  • Dental cavities, sensitivity to hot or cold food.
  • Swelling and soreness in the salivary glands (from repeated vomiting).
  • Ruptures of the stomach and esophagus.
  • Electrolyte imbalance.
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Depression

Compulsive Eating:

  • Compulsive overeating is characterized by uncontrollable eating and consequent weight gain. Compulsive overeaters use food as a way to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and daily problems. The food can block out feelings and emotions. Compulsive overeaters usually feel out of control and are aware their eating patterns are abnormal.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Binge eating
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily
  • Depression
  • Self-deprecating thoughts following binges
  • Withdrawing from activities because of embarrassment about weight
  • Going on many different diets
  • Eating little in public, while maintaining a high weight
  • Believing they will be a better person when thin
  • Feelings about self based on weight
  • Social and professional failures attributed to weight
  • Feeling tormented by eating habits
  • Weight is focus of life

Physical/Medical Complications

  • Weight gain
  • Hypertension or fatigue
  • Heart ailments
  • If you or someone you know has food issues or an eating disorder you can make an appointment with one of the following support services to talk about getting help in overcoming this.

DIT Student Counselling Service at                   4023352 or 0860820543
DIT Medical Service at                                     4023051 or 4023614
BodyWhys at                                                    01 2835126
Marino Therapy Centre at                                 01 8333126
The Kildare Street Clinic at                                01 6629737

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