Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour. This might mean limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means (e.g. purging, laxative misuse, fasting, or excessive exercise), or a combination of these behaviours. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are not all about food itself, but about feelings. The way the person interacts with food may make them feel more able to cope, or may make them feel in control.
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder. They can affect anyone of any age, gender or background. It is possible to move between eating disorders.
Characterised by extreme low weight created through deliberate restriction of calorie intake often coupled with excessive exercise. Someone with anorexia will have a different perception to others of their physical appearance.
Symptoms and effects
|Behavioural||Psychological||Physical||Long term effect|
|Counting the calories in food excessively
Eating only low-calorie food
|Excessive focus on calorie counting||Weight loss||Osteoporosis|
Avoiding eating with other people
|Fear of putting weight on||Feeling dizzy||Erosion of tooth enamel|
|Cutting food into tiny pieces to make it less obvious they have eaten little or to make food easier to swallow
|Underestimating / denying seriousness of problem||Swelling of hands, feet or face||Heart problems|
|Excessive exercising – this might involve exercising when not physically well enough to do so, or feeling guilty or anxious about not exercising||Spending most of the time thinking about food||Constipation, tummy hurts, feeling bloated||Difficulty conceiving|
|Not being truthful about how much weight has been lost||Low confidence||Growing fine soft hair all over body||Delayed onset of puberty|
|Social withdrawal||Anxiety about eating in front of others||Feeling cold or having low body temperature||Damage to other organs|
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is extremely important to seek expert advice and support if you suspect someone has anorexia, for example from the organisation Beat.
Anorexia can be treated through a number of therapies although recovery takes time.
People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively (called purging).
During a binge, people with bulimia don’t feel in control of how much or how quickly they’re eating. Some people also say that they feel as though they’re disconnected from what they’re doing. The food eaten during a binge may include things the person would usually avoid. Episodes of bingeing are often very distressing.
|Behavioural||Psychological||Physical||Long terms effects|
|Binge and purging cycles||Preoccupied with food||Tiredness||Damage and strain of the heart|
|Vomiting||Secretive about food||Bloated||Damage to teeth|
|Laxatives||Low self confidence||Swelling of feet or hands||Damage to the digestive system|
|Being in the toilet for long periods of time||Feelings of guilt and shame, particularly after a binge||Constipation||Infertility|
|Body weight is “normal”||Self-conscious about eating with others||Abdominal pain|