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:
Common Eating Disorders
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 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.
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.
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