Eating disorders

A person with an eating disorder shows an abnormal attitude towards food which causes them to change their eating behaviours. An eating disorder can cause people to exclusively focus on their weight and the shape of their body, which can lead them to make unhealthy choices about what and how they eat – this can have damaging effects on their health. Eating Disorders not only affect a person physically, but also psychologically and socially too. Most people with an eating disorder also have very low self esteem and poor body image.

Eating Disorders can affect people of any age or gender.  Some of the most common types of eating disorders are:


Somebody with Bulimia will usually restrict the amount of food that they eat; this is followed by a cycle of regular binge eating and then making themselves sick or using laxatives to empty their bowels. This is known as ‘purging’.

A person with Bulimia may often go straight to the toilet after eating to allow themselves to ‘purge’ the calories they have just consumed. Tooth decay can sometimes be a symptom because the acid in vomit can damage the teeth and mouth, and the person may have scarring on the knuckles of their hands from forcing their fingers down their throat to make them vomit.

The psychological impact of Bulimia can include feelings of guilt which accompany the binge/purge cycle. People with Bulimia usually have low self esteem and may haveunrealistic opinions about their body, such as believing that they are overweight when they are in actual fact at a health weight or underweight.

Anorexia Nervosa

A person with Anorexia tries to keep their weight as low as possible through starvation or excessive exercise to the point where they are burning more calories than they are consuming; this can mean weighing much less than is healthy for their weight and height. Anorexia can be a life threatening condition.

Anorexia does not usually cause people to lose their appetite, they will still feel hungry but think about food in a different way to other people. They may spend a lot of time thinking about food or reading recipe books but will be very secretive about their eating. For example they may avoid eating with other people, say that they have already eaten, miss meals, hide food or cut food into very small pieces to make it less obvious how little they have eaten.

A person with Anorexia usually has a very distorted view of how their body looks. Anorexia can cause people to believe that their value as a person lies solely in the way they look and that being very thin is a big part of this. Someone with Anorexia may also perform body checks, such as measuring body parts, weighing themselves and checking their body in the mirror.

Some other physical symptoms of anorexia include;

  • downy hair on the body,
  • pain in the stomach
  • feeling tired,
  • feeling cold,
  • feeling dizzy or light headed
  • in women and girls their periods may become irregular or stop altogether
  • over time anorexia can also cause infertility

Binge Eating Disorder

A person with Binge Eating Disorder feels compelled to overeat. Binge eating often takes place in private and is followed by feeling of guilt and disgust. As with other eating disorders, a person with binge eating disorder may have feelings of low self worth, lack confidence. Binge Eating can be associated with other conditions including Bulimia and Obesity.

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

Sometimes people are diagnosed as having an ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’. This can be because they show some but not all of the signs of anorexia or bulimia.

What help is available?

Eating Disorders left untreated can have a very negative impact on the individual’s physical and mental health, their relationships and their social life. Treating eating disorders can take a long time and the person with the condition needs to want to get better. Treatments vary depending on the condition and the individual but usually involve a combination of monitoring the person’s physical health while working through some of the underlying psychological issues. 

If you are concerned about your own health in the first instance visit your GP.  As a friend or family member to come with you if that helps - talking about things and going to the Doctor to seek help can be really stressful.  To help you be aware of what might happen it is useful to know that some Doctors use a questionnaire called the SCOFF questionnaire to help recognise people who may have an eating disorder. This involves asking the following five questions:

  • Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than one stone (six kilograms) in a three-month period?
  • Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
  • Would you say that food dominates your life?

These questions are designed to help the Doctor establish if you have an eating disorder and make sure they get you the right help and support.

The NHS have produced a useful information booklet where you can find out more and you can also check out our support sources below for more information and help sources.

If you are a young person concerned about eating disorders please click here.

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