What is an eating disorder?
Problems with eating can be complex and there is no one single cause of eating disorders. They are not the same as changing your diet and worrying about the way you look. They can take over your life and the lives of your family and the people around you. Eating disorders are not just about food – they can be a way of coping or feeling in control. Eating disorders are serious and everyone who has one deserves care and support.
People with eating disorders are often secretive about their eating and may feel guilty and ashamed. They may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food, which can affect them in many ways.
These are the main types of eating disorder: Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder:
- Anorexia - trying to control your weight by not eating enough, exercising too much or both.
- Bulimia - losing control over how much you eat and then taking drastic action to not put on weight, for example making yourself sick.
- Binge Eating Disorder - eating large portions of food until you feel uncomfortably full.
Everyone is different and so eating disorders can differ from person to person, too. It can take time to be officially diagnosed. The good news is that recovery is possible and the sooner someone gets treatment the more likely they are to manage their eating better.
Common signs of an eating disorder
- spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
- avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved
- eating very little food
- making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
- exercising too much
- having very strict habits or routines around food
- changes in your mood such as being withdrawn, anxious or depressed
These are things that may really make a difference:
- Be aware that many young people may deny they have a problem. They may try to keep it a secret and find it difficult to accept they need help.
- Go to the GP. Make notes about your main concerns ahead of the appointment. The GP will make an assessment and if they think your child needs specialist help, they should be able to refer the young person to a mental health professional specialising in this area.
- There are many different types of treatment, depending on the nature of the eating disorder and the symptoms. Treatment can include dietary control as well as individual and family therapy, aimed at resolving underlying emotional problems.
- If the young person has lost a great deal of weight, or other help seems not to work, they may need to spend some time in hospital or a special unit, where treatment can be more closely monitored.
- Ask family and friends to help support a young person with an eating disorder, particularly by talking to them about their feelings and everyday problems.
- Young people unwilling to accept help from their parents may find it easier to talk to a teacher at school.