Absolutely anyone can develop an eating disorder. They’re particularly common amongst women between the ages of 15 and 25, but that doesn’t mean that older women, boys or men are exempt. Neither are they something you can just ‘snap out of’ - if you’re concerned that you might be suffering from one, it’s important that you seek professional help.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a mental health condition that results in an obsessive relationship with food, whether that be over- or under-eating.
There are a few different types of eating disorders:
Anorexia (anorexia nervosa)
Someone with anorexia is preoccupied with their eating or body weight and will often try to eat very little or over-exercise to lose weight.
- Reducing your food intake, counting calories of all your food, taking drugs that suppress your appetite, or avoiding foods that feel ‘dangerous’ such as those with high amounts of calories or fats
- Exercising a lot and having strict rules about how much you need to do
- Spending a lot of time thinking about food
- Hiding food or secretly throwing it away
- Feeling that you are fat, not good enough, or wanting to disappear
- Feeling anxious, depressed or even suicidal
Bulimia (bulimia nervosa)
Someone with bulimia will alternate between eating very little and having binges where they over-eat and feel out of control. They might also vomit or take laxatives after eating to avoid putting weight on.
- Going through cycles of eating, feeling guilty, binging, feeling hungry and eating again throughout the day
- Eating in secret
- Trying to get rid of food you’ve eaten by making yourself sick, taking laxatives or exercising excessively
- Feeling ashamed, guilty, depressed or anxious
- Feeling that you hate your body or that you’re fat
- Feeling like you’re in a cycle of falling out control and trying to get control back
Binge eating disorder (BED)
Someone with BED has frequent episodes of binge eating and will often feel ashamed or out of control. It’s often described as ‘compulsive eating’.
- Feeling out of control and not able to stop eating
- Picking at food all day, or eating large amounts all at once
- Regularly eating unhealthy food
- Eating for comfort when you feel stressed, upset, bored or unhappy
- Eating until you feel uncomfortably full or sick
What can cause eating disorders?
Many eating disorders are caused by one or more of the following:
- Difficult life experiences - eating disorders often stem from psychological distress such as bereavement, abuse, divorce, bullying or family problems, in which case you might use food to divert your attention from these pressures.
- Stress - sometimes, people with a great deal of stress or high expectations placed on them believe they can cope with their problems by controlling the amount and type of food they eat.
- Habits and traits – people with eating disorders often share common traits which make them more vulnerable, such as being a perfectionist, very critical of yourself, very competitive or having a tendency towards obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Social and cultural pressure – we’re exposed to society’s version of the ‘perfect body’ all the time through films, books, tv, adverts, peer pressure and social media. This can lead people to compare themselves with unrealistic images and feel bad about their own body as a result.
- Biological and genetic factors – research has shown that your genes might have an impact on whether or not you’re vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. Having too much or too little serotonin, for example, can affect your mood and appetite.
Although it might not seem like it right now, eating disorders can be overcome with the right help. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s always best to seek help as soon as possible. You can do this by:
- Opening up to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, trained counsellor or school teacher
- Speaking to your doctor, who may then be able to refer you to a dietitian or therapist
- Getting in touch with Beat, who help people to overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups.
- Visiting Men get eating disorders too, where you can get support from others with eating disorders.
Other useful links