Trigger Warning - some of the content below may trigger some unpleasant emotions.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is about having a relationship with food that feels out of control.
This page highlights some of the most common eating disorders. These are:
- Anorexia Nervosa - A person who has anorexia nervosa restricts the amount they eat and drink, deliberately starving themselves of food. It is a rare mental health illness. People can die from the effects of anorexia as they are simply not eating enough to survive.
Bulimia Nervosa - A person who has bulimia nervosa often gorges on food or 'binge' eats. After binge-eating a large quantity of food they will immediately get rid of the food they have eaten by making themselves sick or taking laxatives to cause diarrhoea.
There are other types of eating disorders which you might be experiencing, such as:
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) - is where people experience a loss of control and regularly overeat, consuming large amounts of food over a short period of time (binging). They eat even when they are not hungry.The difference between bulimia and binge eating disorder is people with BED do not make themselves sick, take laxatives or exercise in attempt to control their weight. After binge eating they will often feel very upset. Find out more about BED.
- Orthorexia - is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, as well as worrying about the quality and purity of food. Their food choices become very limited in terms of variety and calories. People with orthorexia might have some symptoms similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as anorexia. Find out more about Orthorexia.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of age, race, gender or background.
Eating disorders are a way of coping with feelings and emotions, and are a sign that you're struggling to cope with life and it's demands. Feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, loss or fear can lead to someone developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are serious, they claim more lives than any other mental illness – one in five of those most seriously affected will die as a result.
If you feel your eating habits have changed dramatically and you don't feel in control any more, this could indicate a problem.
Things NOT to say to a friend struggling with an eating disorder
Don't comment on their body size.
Don't praise them for being skinny - You're basically telling them that their efforts are working, and only increase their belief that having a smaller body will make them be more worthy.
Don't tell them to just eat something - An eating disorder is more complex than this because it's a mental health illness.
- Don't comment on their food choices - It will only make them feel uneasy that their eating is being observed.
What to say instead:
- Are you okay? I can tell things are tough for you right now, is there anything I can do to help?
- No one is perfect, go easy on yourself.
- I like you no matter what.
- I’m here for you, I can go with you to talk to someone to seek support.
Boys can have eating disorders too
It might be less talked about, but boys and men can experience eating disorders too. Research suggests that one in four people with an eating disorder is male.
Boys can develop an eating disorder because they want to achieve what they perceive to be the “ideal” physique. They may work out excessively, or use steroids or supplements to minimise body fat and increase muscle mass and definition. Boys can also have an obsession with “clean eating” — cutting out carbs, increasing protein, or adhering to restrictive fad diet.
Watch the video on this page about Charles, a 17 year old boy who has been battling anorexia for two years.
Over-exercise - a symptom of eating disorders
One of the symptoms of an eating disorder can be the urge to over-exercise. This can be because of a desire to be 'thin', or because of an obsession with getting a 'muscular' body shape (typically more so with young men).
Many young men and women experience compulsive exercising alongside an eating disorder, and it can be dangerous. If you think you might be exercising too much or it's taking over your thoughts.
If you think you might have an eating disorder it's really important that you seek help and talk to someone as soon as possible as the physical effects on your body can be dangerous. Take a look at the information below for help and support.
Tell us what you think
Getting support - the road to getting better starts with a conversation
Visit your GP - You can go to your GP for help at any age. Anything you talk about is confidential and will be kept between you and your doctor.
If you're 16 or over, you can refer yourself for free support from the Wellbeing Service. This could be in the form of short term counselling or a telephone call from a professional, or wellbeing workshops or classes. For more information, visit the Wellbeing Service website.
Speak to a school nurse - Through the ChatHealth Service - they offer weekly confidential 'drop-ins' in secondary schools. To find out more go to our page ChatHealth.
Get online support from Kooth - a free, safe and confidential online emotional wellbeing and counselling service for 11-25 year olds in Suffolk.To find out more go to our page Kooth
Contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hub - provides advice and professional support if you are worried about your emotional wellbeing or a friends. Call 0345 600 2090 (available weekdays from 8am to 7.30pm) or make an online referral. To find out more, go to our page Emotional Wellbeing Hub
Speak to a youth worker at 4YP - You can drop in or call for support and advice. Visit their website for more details: www.4yp.org.uk
Get support from Beat - Beat Eating Disorders charity website provides support services. You can call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711 (their Helplines are open 365 days a year, from 3pm to 10pm).
Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the Beat helpline on local rate number 0808 801 0677.
Both helplines are open from 3pm - 10pm 365 days per year.
Or you can use the Beat message boards to get support from other people who may be experiencing eating disorders - go to the Beat message boards.
Other useful websites
ABC - Anorexia and Bulimia Care for young people.