Eating disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are often caused of feelings of intense unhappiness and depression. Developing an eating disorder can also be a sign that we have a complex relationship with our self-image. We may perceive that they allow us to gain some control over our emotions in a physical way, although eating disorders are actually very harmful physically and emotionally. Having an eating disorder is a sign that we need support with coping with
things in life and working though emotional difficulties. Eating disorders are complex and not all signs and symptoms will apply to us. There are a number of different eating disorders and signs that we might be suffering from one or more of them:

Anorexia nervosa:

Physical symptoms:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Periods stopping in girls (amenorrhoea)
  • Hormonal changes in boys
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Feeling cold constantly


  • Lying about having eaten meals, and secrecy around eating in front of others
  • Needing to control a situation
  • Being in denial that there is an issue
  • Wearing baggy clothes to disguise weight loss, or perceived weight gain
  • Fixation with exercising excessively
  • Isolating ourselves and wanting to be alone

Emotional signs:

  • Intense and irrational fear of gaining weight
  • Having an obsession with dieting and portion control
  • Having a distorted view of our shape and size, often not based in reality
  • Experiencing guilt after eating
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Feeling guilty when we eat
  • Depressive symptoms

Bulimia nervosa: Physical symptoms:

  • Suffering sore throats and swollen glands
  • Experiencing issues with our teeth such as sensitivity and enamel damage
  • Stomach pains
  • Getting infections in our mouths
  • Irregular periods in girls
  • Extremely dry skin


  • Eating large quantities of food in a single sitting
  • Purging and vomiting after eating
  • Secretive behaviour to cover our tracks
  • Excessive abuse of laxatives

Emotional signs:

  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • Feeling intense shame and guilt for our actions
  • Feeling out of control and powerless to stop
  • Suffering serious mood swings


Binge Eating Disorder (BED):

Physical symptoms:

Weight gain Behaviours:

  • Eating large quantities of food
  • Being secretive about our eating
  • Eating inappropriate and unhealthy foods

Emotional signs:

  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • Feeling ashamed and depressed
  • Suffering intense mood swings
  • Feeling powerless

We may also suffer from EDNOS; an ‘Eating disorder not otherwise specified’. This means we may meet some but not all the diagnostic criteria for the above types of eating disorder, but do have disordered eating habits and emotional issues going on.

What causes eating disorders?

When suffering from an eating disorder it may actually be our underlying emotional issues and distress that are the catalysts for developing one, rather than the root issue being food itself. When we transition from childhood and enter pre-pubescence or puberty, our bodies change and develop in new and sometimes overwhelming ways. These changes can be hard to come to terms with and adjust to. As a result of this, eating disorders are
much more common in young people going through such huge image and life changes, including how we look and feel about ourselves. Developing unhealthy eating patterns or dieting excessively when we are young can lead to more extreme disorders that we might use as a way to excerpt some control over our lives, or as a means to help us cope with stressful and upsetting times we face at this age. These can include exam stress, family breakdowns, bullying, friendship issues, and issues with dating and sex. Eating disorders are commonly associated with young women, but increasingly, young men are also becoming more susceptible to developing a disorder.

Getting help

It can be very difficult to get better on our own once we are in the grip of an eating disorder, so it is really important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Remember, that in the extreme, people do die from eating disorders. Our loved ones don’t want us to suffer in this way. Doctors will assess our physical condition and refer us for appropriate help depending on the issues we are suffering. This can include seeing psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, nutritionists or counsellors, or a combination of these professions. We don’t have to see our GP alone; we can confide in a trusted loved one like a parent, carer, friend or teacher who can then help us speak to other people and our doctor about the problems we are facing.
The more people who know, the more help we’ll get to break the cycle of eating disorders. Remember – we have done nothing to bring this on ourselves and any shame or guilt we feel is down to the eating disorder, not us. Don’t let the disorder win.

Learning to effectively deal with the issues at the root of eating disorders is important, as not dealt with it can cause long-term issues that last into adulthood, so it is important to talk to somebody about it if things are becoming too much to handle.

Further help: