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Updated : August 1, 2022 6 mins read

Eating disorders

Updated : August 1, 2022 6 mins read

It’s important to remember…

The information that we put together in these pages are for informational purposes and should never be used as medical advice or instead of advice given to you from a health professional.

If you have any concerns about your mental health then you should always speak to a mental health professional or your GP.

We do our very best to put together information that gives you a good understanding of mental health issues and what can help but it is not intended as medical advice and we do not take responsibility that it is accurate or up to date at the time of reading.

An eating disorder is a serious mental health illness, which can also have life changing physical consequences.

They can affect anyone from any gender, age, race or background. At its most extreme an eating disorder can be life threatening.

Trigger warning

This page talks about eating disorder symptoms and issues that might be upsetting. If you are struggling at the minute you may find it triggering to read this page today.

What to do if you feel triggered: You don’t need to read everything on this page today.

You could also use the summary/jump to section to go sections you feel able to read. Or, you can bookmark it, leave it completely and come back to it another day.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder can develop when someone is trying to cope or control difficult emotions or get through a troubling experience.

There are different types of eating disorders depending how you control or restrict your calorie intake. Most people think that eating disorders are about food, but they are about feelings and trying to find a sense of control.

Some eating disorders centre around strict restrictions of what foods to eat or not eat and how many calories you allow yourself to consume during a day. Other types focus on how you get rid of the food you eat in unhealthy ways such as making yourself sick or excessively exercising.

Often eating disorders build up over time, what starts out as something to make you feel better suddenly takes control of your life. At the point when you realise you might need help it might feel like there’s no hope for you. This isn’t true, everyone deserves help to be well and healthy.

Types of eating disorders

All forms of eating disorders are equally serious and anyone who is experiencing any of the symptoms should be encouraged to get help.

These are the three most common forms of eating disorders. You can find out about other forms of eating disorders on BEAT’s website.

If you have an eating disorder, you might have characteristics from different types of eating disorders or you might not meet all the criteria for a diagnosis in one disorder. This is referred to as OSFED – Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder, this is really common and is actually the most diagnosed eating disorder.

What causes an eating disorder?

There are many different reasons why an eating disorder might develop.

An eating disorder isn’t about trying to lose weight through dieting, eating disorders are serious mental illnesses which can cause the person a lot of distress and pain.

Often eating disorders begin as a way of coping with difficult emotions or experiences.

These might include:

  • Having a mental health condition
  • Trauma
  • Being bullied
  • Social/ peer pressure
  • Parents divorcing or other family conflict
  • Pressure to perform well, at school, work or in sports
  • Low mood
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Feeling out of control

Symptoms of an eating disorder

Many people who have an eating disorder feel like they’re not unwell enough or don’t deserve to get help for their illness. Some people find it hard to pinpoint when an eating disorder started. They may have just wanted to get fitter or healthier and became stuck in extreme cycles. For other people they remember quite clearly the first time they started to restrict food.

Regardless of how or why it started, if you’re worried that you might have an eating disorder you should speak to someone who can help you.

Everyone deserves help and support to be well. Remember an eating disorder isn’t your fault, it is an illness and one that you can get help for.

How you might feel if you have an eating disorder:

  • Hopelessly lost
  • That you need to be more unwell before you deserve to get better
  • That this will be the last time you make yourself sick
  • Restricting, vomiting or bingeing makes you feel in control, even when you’re out of control
  • That the pain of hunger is what you deserve
  • That you know you should eat but can’t
  • That things will get better when you reach a certain weight
  • You feel depressed/shame/anger after eating food
  • You feel like you’re doing this for attention, it’s your fault
  • Feel worthless

What might physically happen if you have an eating disorder:

  • Take food and exercise to the extreme
  • Reduce calories to unhealthy levels
  • Feeling light headed, dizzy or fainting
  • Constant headaches or brain fog
  • Hunger pains wake you up in the night and you wake up in the morning hungry
  • Your hair can fall out
  • Having no energy
  • Needing to sleep all the time
  • Unable to concentrate at work or school

Treatment for eating disorders

Treatment can be slightly different depending on what type of eating disorder you have. Something that is found to work well in most eating disorders is the use of therapy. Therapy can help you to unpick the reasons why the eating disorder started in the first place and help you to find better ways to manage your thoughts and feelings.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s path to recovery is different, it can take some time to find the right combination of support and treatment for you but you can overcome your eating disorder. It might feel frustrating at times but you can get through this and live a happy and healthy life.

Recovery from an eating disorder can take a long time and some people live with negative thoughts about food for a long time afterwards, but with support you can find ways to manage these thoughts and replace them with more positive thinking patterns. Therapy can help you to find ways to build a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

If you are diagnosed with Bulimia, you might be offered a medication called Fluoxetine which is an antidepressant. Antidepressants have been found to help reduce the binge and purge (making yourself sick) cycle. If you are offered an antidepressant, it’s important that these are used alongside other interventions such as talking therapy and building healthier habits. Medication on its own very often won’t end an eating disorder.

If you’re worried about an eating disorder, you’re not alone and can get help today.

BEAT – email or web chat with trained eating disorder support workers

Call 116 123 – The Samaritans

Webchat: Childline Counsellor Chat

Call 0800 83 85 87 – Breathing Space (Scotland only service)

Text: ‘YM’ to 85258 – Young Minds crisis chat