Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes  someone to change their eating habits and behaviours that can affect them physically, psychologically and socially. 

Causes of eating disorders are complex and can include:
  • Social pressure to be thin
  • Family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • Being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight
  • Being overly concerned with being slim
  • Having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • Particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone special
  • Difficult relationships with family members or friends
  • Stressful situations, for example problems at work, school or university

Common Eating Disorders

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia when individuals try to control their weight by eating large amounts of food all in one go (binge eating) and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives to empty their bowels (purging). Because your weight will usually stay roughly the same, people are less likely to notice the illness

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising excessively. Individuals suffering from anorexia usually do not allow themselves to eat enough food to get the energy and nutrition they need to stay physically healthy. It is often connected to very low self-esteem, negative self-image and feelings of intense distress. Someone suffering from anorexia is likely to: reduce your food intake or stop eating altogether; count calories obsessively; hide food or secretly throw it away; use drugs that reduce your appetite or speed up your digestion; be obsessed with losing weight; make yourself sick or use laxatives; exercise compulsively; wear baggy clothes to cover up weight loss and keep warm.

This can result in: substantial weight loss, feeling weak, feeling cold, hair thinning and falling out, irregular periods or periods stopping.

Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is individuals can't stop themselves from over eating even if you want to. It is therefore sometimes described as having a food addiction or compulsive eating. Some people rely on food for emotional support or to mask difficult feelings.  Examples of noticeable behaviours include: eating large amounts at once (bingeing); hide how much you're eating; regularly eat unhealthy food; eating until you feel uncomfortably full or sick; eat for comfort when you feel stressed, upset or unhappy. This can result in being overweight and associated health problems.

Getting Help
If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, it is important to speak to a GP or a specialist group - some are listed below.  You can search a list of local services providing support to people affected by eating disorders on the Beat Eating Disorders website here.

Contact an organisation about this issue
MWN Helpline is not responsible for the accuracy of the information provided and listing any organisation does not imply its endorsement.
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Find national and local organisations
Beat Eating Disorders
Phone:0845 634 1414 / 0845 634 7650 (Youth Line)  Beat provides helplines, online support and a network of UK-wide self-help groups to help adults and young people in the UK beat their eating disorders. 
Eating Disorders Support
Phone:01494 793223 Provides help and support to anyone affected by an eating problem such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. It also provides help for those who are caring for, or supporting someone with an eating disorder. 
National Centre for Eating Disorders
Phone:0845 838 2040 Help and treatment for sufferers.
Rehab Recovery
Phone:0800 088 66 86  Provides addiction treatment and healthcare advice for a wide range of of different addiction and dependency problems. FREE 24/7 confidential helpline. However, these are likely to be private services that you will have to pay for. However, all services may not be free.

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