We all know that food has a very direct link to our well-being and mental and physical health. Similarly, our mental state determines the type of food we eat.
In an increasingly globalised competitive world, people, including young people, are having to deal with various kinds of pressures and situations, much different from previous generations. This is coupled with emotional vulnerability, bullying amongst peers, de-motivation and insecurities, and which for some, becomes too difficult to deal with. For some people, self harm becomes a conscious or unconscious act that helps them to deal with these added pressures.
Though self harm trends are more noticeable among young people, it is by no means restricted to the younger generation. Due to a combination of work pressure, family, societal and lifestyle issues, adults also experience self harming behaviour that requires self harm help. A depressed state of mind can encourage self harm as sometimes the mind sees harming the self as a means of dealing with the underlying issues. Under these circumstances, the right kind of nutrition intake can go a long way in shaping the behavioural patterns of people with self harming tendencies.
Food contains various nutrients and vitamins. Each type of nutrient stimulates different organs of the body. Studies have shown that carbohydrates stimulate serotonin production. Serotonin which is also known as hydroxytryptamine is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, platelets and in the central nervous system. It is a major contributor of feelings of well-being: therefore it is also known as a “happiness hormone” though it is not actually a hormone.
According to Randy Sanstone, John Livett and Lori Sanstone in their article “Eating Disorders and Self-Harm: A chaotic intersection” about 25% of Eating Disorder patients are prone to non-fatal self harm. A further quarter of people with self harm tendencies and who suffer from Eating Disorders also have border line personality disorder. Eating disorders can create other emotional challenges including a ‘chaotic inner-self’, problems in expressing oneself, stress and anger issues.
People with eating disorder challenges, deal with the issues in different ways. Some people purge themselves, otherwise known as bulimia, which has a cycle of under-eating and over-eating leading to a sense of low self esteem and needing to purge. Some people have binge eating tendencies which can also include increasing their carbohydrate intake. This can be symbolized as a stifling of their emotions; whilst others eat very little at all (starvation) known as anorexia.
Beyond Self Harm & Eating Disorder
Therapy can help people with eating disorder related self harm. Therapy in groups or individually can assist people to understand their eating habits and the functions that food plays in their lives. Research shows that people exhibiting self harm benefit greatly from talking therapies which also focus on the underlying issues behind the self harm and/or eating disorder, and the functions that they play in the person’s life. Medical intervention is also used to reduce self harming behaviour.
Given that self harm and eating disorder is more prevalent in schools than ever before, teachers and teaching support staff would benefit from self harm awareness training to enable them to get a better understanding of the underlying issues in order to be able to offer self harm help to self harming pupils.
Self harm behaviour and eating habits and disorders are intricately related. Research shows that focusing on the underlying issues behind these habits, however, can and does reduce or eradicate the need to self harm.
As always with everything that people want to change, the person must want to change or improve in order for any treatment to work, otherwise time, effort and treatment become counterproductive.