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Major life changes can lead to an eating disorder

People can succumb to eating disorders for a variety of reasons. New research has highlighted a number of stressful life events that could potentially trigger the onset of an eating disorder. At different periods in our lives we fall into certain routines. When we are young we go to school five days a week. As we grow older and enter the working world we fall into the routine of having a job. With marriage and children comes an entirely new structure to our day. Like it or not we all eventually fall into pre-set patterns to our day. That said, these patterns can change as we grow and mature into old age. Some of the most stressful times in our lives come about when our regular schedule becomes altered or changed completely. The death of a loved one, moving houses or jobs are just a few examples of how we can be thrown out of our comfort zone and must react to new realities.

Researchers have set out to investigate how these life changing events can affect our mental and physical health. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing establishes that there may be a link between key life events and how they can trigger an eating disorder. Dr Jerica M Berge of the University of Minnesota who was involved with the study explained the focus of their enquiry, “The aim of our study was to find out if there was any link between transitional events in family life and the onset of eating disorders.”

Their study involved interviewing 26 women and one man who had all struggled with eating disorders. The subjects aged between 17 and 64 years old had a median age of 27. They had been involved with treatment for their eating disorder between 10 months and 18 years. Nine of the interviewees had anorexia, three had bulimia, fourteen had various eating disorders that met no specific criteria and one subject had both anorexia and bulimia.

After speaking with the 27 subjects the researchers noticed six recurring themes that led to the onset of an eating disorder. I will list them here in no particular order.

Six common triggers for eating disorders:

  • School transition: This could involve either the move from one primary/secondary school to another or the big jump away from home into a university.
  • Relationships: The divorce of parents could affect a child as can the breakdown of a romantic relationship.
  • Death of a loved one: This could include either a family member or close friend. Grief can cause people to change their habits and behaviours.
  • Moving house or changing jobs: These changes can lead to people feeling vulnerable in their new environments.
  • Major Illness: Weight loss caused by illness could prompt people to continue to lose weight or begin bingeing in order to gain back the lost weight.
  • Physical, sexual or incestuous abuse

Also emerging from the interviews was the common thread of how those who developed an eating disorder did not receive necessary support from their family and friends during these difficult moments. People need eating disorder support, especially during trying periods. When that support does not materialise then some people can look for comfort in actions that can be damaging and addictive. Dr Jerica Birge said, “We hope that our findings will be of interest to parents as well as health professionals as they underline the need for greater awareness and support at times of change and stress.”

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