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Eating Disorders / Food Addiction


What is an eating disorder?

Our relationship with food
In this section, we pay attention to our relationship with food. Food is part of our lives and something we depend on to survive. Yet each one has a specific relationship with it. It can be more or less important to us. We can have certain rules or boundaries within the relationship, and there are certain patterns that are embedded within the relationship. When this relationship becomes unhealthy, it can lead to an eating disorder or food addiction.

Eating disorders are treatable! It is extremely important to enlist the help of a professional as soon as possible.

What is a Food Addiction?
Much research is currently being done on addiction to e.g. sugar or carbohydrates. When we cherish (c), it is usually high in sugar and / or carbohydrates. While these foods can be addictive and also stimulate a rewarding message in the brain, we focus more on the processes surrounding food intake, e.g. the time spent thinking about it, acquiring it, taking in the behavior that follows, as well as the function it fulfills, e.g. to comfort or reward. So we focus on the relationship we have with food, rather than the food itself. That is why we prefer it below process addiction as substance abuse group.

What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a pattern whereby people unconsciously experience their life problems (issues) try to cope by focusing on their relationship with food and their weight. The person thus avoids their emotions about the things that are really important. Food and weight become so important that it determines their feelings about themselves and has a noticeable impact on their functioning, which can be life-threatening.

On a deeper level
Underlying the symptoms of an eating disorder, we often see problems in the relationship of the person suffering from the eating disorder with the person's primary caregiver (usually the mother). There is usually a power struggle that is not directly articulated in this relationship, as well as confusion about the roles of caregiver and child. The boundaries between the child and the primary caregiver are / were therefore problematic and the process of being / becoming independent is in some way suppressed. Instead of dealing directly with the tension / conflict, both parties should be friendly and respectful and suppress their anger. Control is therefore also a central theme: Who is in control and who is in control? The "child" in the relationship always feels powerless and in an attempt to give her / himself a sense of being "in control", the control of eating habits becomes unnaturally important. In some cases, control over food intake then becomes virtually obsessive, while in others it is totally lost.

How do I see myself?
Self image
Again, as in the case of other psychological conditions, the relationship I have with myself is crucial. How do I see myself, and how do I talk to myself? We often find that the person struggling with an eating disorder has a negative core belief about themselves, e.g. that they are not good enough. This leads to low self-esteem. Performance becomes unhealthily important, almost as a way to compensate for the negative image they have about themselves. Being lean, then, is a very important achievement, and weight gain is a major failure, "affirming" their negative self-worth.

We often see it problematic for some people (especially women) to accept their strong or dominant traits within a society where they are socialized to “nice”And that the suppression of these“ unacceptable ”characteristics is associated with them to suppress appetite or other symptoms of eating disorder.

Why an addiction?
The bodily response to the eating disorder behavior has addictive properties. An anorexia sufferer becomes e.g. addicted to the feeling of starvation, the aftereffect of using laxatives and the feeling of a malnourished body. The neurological consequences of this behavior can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol.

Someone who overeat gets addicted to the feeling of eating too much. The search for emotional relief is displaced with an urge to eat. The eating episode, as in the case of other addictions, brings only temporary relief and is usually followed by feelings of guilt, self-awareness and negative self-evaluation. The same goes for the aftereffect of vomiting, which is equally addictive.

A person with an eating disorder gets caught up in a repetitive pattern of the addictive behaviors associated with eating and / or weight.

Did you know?
It is estimated that about one million people in South Africa suffer from an eating disorder, of which the largest percentage are teenagers, especially teenage girls.

Read how an anorexia sufferer writes about the experience:


We distinguish three main types of eating disorders:

We distinguish three main types of eating disorders:

  1. anorexia nervosa
  2. bulimia nervosa
  3. binge eating disorder)


Related problems

People with eating disorders may also struggle with one or more of the following:

  1. bipolar mood disorder
  2. depression
  3. anxiety
  4. obsessive-compulsive disorder
  5. low self-esteem
  6. alcohol and / or substance abuse or dependency
  7. personality problems


Do I, or anyone I care about, have a problem?

Below is a list of signs that may indicate that someone is struggling with their relationship with food and weight. If you, or someone you know, identifies with one or more of the points, it is recommended that a professional be contacted.

Did you know?
Eating disorders are more common among women, but also occur in men.
  1. I regularly evaluate my body, e.g. by weighing myself often, measuring body parts and / or looking in the mirror for visible fat.
  2. I see weight loss as an achievement and weight gain as an unacceptable failure.
  3. What the scale says I weigh can determine my mood for the whole day.
  4. If I have eaten or "eaten" wrong, I must exercise or do something to make up for my mistake.
  5. Family and / or friends worry about my weight.
  6. Being lean is more important to me than being healthy.
  7. I start to avoid people / opportunities because of my eating patterns.
  8. I can't always do my work / school work because I don't have energy or feel bad after eating.
  9. My eating habits follow a sustained, extreme pattern where I'm either exceptionally healthy, or very little, or just what I want to eat.
  10. I follow one diet after another.
  11. My weight and eating habits take up so much time and attention that the other facets of my life do not receive enough attention. It controls my life.
  12. I feel trapped in my eating habits.
  13. I eat to feel better emotionally.
  14. I overeat regularly.
  15. I struggle to control my eating habits.
  16. I control my eating habits very strictly.


If you or a loved one is struggling with one or more of the above symptoms, it may benefit you to contact one of the following persons / professional services:

  1. your GP;
  2. your nearest health clinic, hospital or emergency unit; or
  3. Visit one of the following websites for a psychologist in your area:
    1. Find help
    2. Psychotherapy
    3. Medpages
    4. contact Wie is ek?
  4. You can also visit the websites of the following visit support groups to contact them:
    1. Eating Disorders Anonymous
    2. Overeaters Anonymous
    3. Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous


Treatment of eating disorders

Why is treatment necessary for eating disorders / food addiction?
Eating disorders / food addiction can pose serious physical and health risks and in some cases even lead to the person's death. Professional support by psychologists, psychiatrists and dietitians familiar with the treatment of eating disorders is usually the most effective way to treat food addiction. A treatment plan contains recommendations on how to deal with the underlying aspects associated with destructive eating patterns. It is important to consider emotional triggers. Healthy coping mechanisms can be implemented through treatment.

Who can diagnose me or a loved one?
Because eating disorders are so complex, we would recommend that you be tested and diagnosed only by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are trained to distinguish between the various disorders. You can also be treated by a counseling psychologist with experience in the treatment of eating disorders.

What role does a psychologist play in my treatment?
A psychologist can diagnose an eating disorder and treat psychotherapeutic in collaboration with other professionals. This means that the person can help you understand what your diagnosis is, how to live with it, and how to apply a strategy that can lead to behavioral change. A psychologist in South Africa may not prescribe medication and usually works with a psychiatrist in a team.

How do our psychologists work with it?
The vision of the Wie is ek?center is to provide in-depth treatment for eating disorders, as with other addictions, in which a careful focus is placed on the dynamics of the eating disorder, but where the other important components of someone's story, personality and context are also integrated into the therapy process. In other words, the focus is not only in isolation on the eating disorder, but also on how it relates to the person's trauma, defense mechanisms, family and stressors.

We also focus specifically on people's conflicting (ambivalent) feelings towards their addiction. This means that a part of the person wants to escape from the addiction cycle, but there is also a part that wants to hold on to the "benefits" that the addiction holds. It is important to work therapeutically with both sides and strengthen the part of the person who wants to recover.

A person with an eating disorder becomes trapped in a repetitive pattern of the addictive behavior associated with eating and / or weight.

A person suffering from this works in individual sessions with experienced and highly trained therapists and also participates in group sessions, in which he / she can share their experiences and challenges with a therapist and other persons in the same boat.


Did you know?
It is difficult to determine the causes of eating disorders, but the media (television and films) which usually present an “ideal” image of what one is “supposed” to look like, e.g. in the modeling world, can be an important contributing factor.
Balance is a key word in the context of addictions and specifically in the treatment of an eating disorder. We can not stop eating as with alcohol and drug addiction (where one stops using). A balanced intake of different foods is the goal.


If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health problems, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?