For Parents: Psychological aspects of RED-S

For Parents on the Psychological aspects of RED-S

By Renee Mc Gregor

So what’s really going on?

1) Disordered Eating is not about food, exercise or body image -these are just the symptoms of the underlying negative emotions that the individual does not want to deal with as it is too uncomfortable. One of the biggest drivers is anxiety. Anxiety feels physically and mentally incredibly uncomfortable; it can often make an individual feel chaotic and “messy”. In order to maintain some control and contain these feelings, it is a lot easier to focus on food or training which is something physical they can control.

2) There is no specific reason or a particular comment someone has made that causes an eating disorder.

3) It is the accumulation of their experiences, their interpretation and perceptions, accompanied by their personality type that creates the perfect storm for an ED to develop. Individuals susceptible to developing an ED tend to be high achieving, driven, focuses, compulsive, self critical, sensitive and obsessive. In a normal situation these behaviour traits are positive and useful for achieving success. However, when they are off kilter, they can equally act as the individual’s nemesis. The deeper they become affected by their ED, the worse these symptoms become.

4) No-one chooses to have an ED and indeed, it is usually a gradual decline.

5) What starts out as a way of “trying to improve” themselves through eating more nutritionally, or training a little harder, can soon turn into a dangerous and harmful illness. The bigger the energy deficit and the lower the weight, the more compulsive and rigid the individual becomes. The inability to sit down and relax is thrown out the window and replaced with a restlessness and almost hyperactivity. This is actually the body’s way of keeping the individual alert and alive when it sees the threat of starvation causing the heart to potentially stop in severe cases.

6) There is no end in sight as the individual is continually trying to prove they are good enough by punishing training schedules and restrictive eating patterns; but no matter how far they go, it is never enough. Only through working with specialist trained practitioners who can challenge the ED mindset and help the individual to change their perception of themselves, can an individual start to recover.

A typical ED mindset would look something like this:

 While all the focus is on food and performance, the real issue is the ability to accept themselves; they are highly self critical.

“Competitiveness is a biological trait that co-evolved with the basic need for human survival.”

However, we must teach individuals to learn how to mange their expectations.

“The key to our wellbeing is not low expectations. It is the ability to interpret unexpected negative outcomes in a positive way. We should look at failure as an opportunity to learn and do better, and bask in our high expectations”

Renee McGregor BSc (hons) PGDIP (DIET) PGCERT(sportsnutr) RD SENr Sports and Eating Disorder Specialist Dietitian

Author of “Orthorexia” “Training Food” and “Fast Fuel” books

Co Founder of #TRAINBRAVE, a campaign launched to raise awareness of eating disorders and relative energy deficiency in sports (REDs), highlight risks, and change attitudes within endurance sports.


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