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E
ating disorders are characterised by an
abnormal attitude towards food that causes
someone to change their eating habits and
behaviour.
A person with an eating disorder may focus
excessively on their weight and shape, leading
them to make unhealthy choices about food with
damaging results to their health.
Types of eating disorders
Eating disorders include a range of conditions that
can affect someone physically, psychologically and
socially. The most common eating disorders are:
anorexia nervosa when a person tries to keep
their weight as low as possible; for example, by
starving themselves or exercising excessively
bulimia when a person goes through periods
of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or
uses laxatives (medication to help empty the
bowels) to try to control their weight
binge eating disorder (BED) when a person
feels compelled to overeat large amounts of
food in a short space of time
Some people, particularly those who are young,
may be diagnosed with an eating disorder not
otherwise specified (EDNOS). This means you have
some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating
disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are often blamed on the social
pressure to be thin, as young people in particular
feel they should look a certain way. However, the
causes are usually more complex.
An eating disorder may be associated
with biological, genetic or environmental factors
combined with a particular event that triggers
the disorder. There may also be other factors that
maintain the illness.
Risk factors that can increase the likelihood
of a person having an eating disorder include:
having a family history of eating disorders,
depression or substance misuse
being criticised for their eating habits, body
shape or weight
being overly concerned with being slim,
particularly if combined with pressure to be
slim from society or for a job for example,
ballet dancers, models or athletes
certain underlying characteristics for example,
having an obsessive personality, an anxiety
disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
particular experiences, such as sexual or
emotional abuse or the death of someone
special
difficult relationships with family members or
friends
stressful situations for example, problems at
work, school or university
Do I have an eating disorder?
Doctors sometimes use a questionnaire to help
identify people who may have an eating disorder.
The questionnaire asks the following five questions:
Do you make yourself sick because you feel
uncomfortably full?
Do you worry you have lost control over how
much you eat?
Have you recently lost more than one stone (six
kilograms) in a three-month period?
Do you believe yourself to be fat when others
say you are too thin?
Would you say food dominates your life?
If you answer "yes" to two or more of these questions,
you may have an eating disorder.
Spotting an eating disorder
in others
It can often be very difficult to identify that a loved
one or friend has developed an eating disorder.
Warning signs to look out for include:
missing meals
complaining of being fat, even though they
have a normal weight or are underweight
repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at
themselves in the mirror
making repeated claims that they've already
eaten, or they'll shortly be going out to eat
somewhere else and avoiding eating at home