Eating disorders

content supplied by NHS Choices

Problems with food can begin when it's used to cope with those times when you're feeling bored, anxious, angry, lonely, ashamed or sad.

Watch a video about anorexia.

You might use food to help you cope with painful situations or feelings without even realising it.

It's unlikely that an eating disorder will be the result of one single cause. It's much more likely to be a combination of many factors, events, feelings or pressures that lead to you feeling unable to cope.

These can include low self-esteem, problems with friends or family relationships, the death of someone special, problems at work, college or university, lack of confidence, or sexual or emotional abuse. Many people talk about simply feeling too fat or not good enough.

People with eating disorders often say that the eating disorder is the only way they feel they can stay in control of their life. But, as time goes on, it is the eating disorder that starts to control them. Some people also find they have an urge to harm themselves, or misuse alcohol or drugs.

If this is how you deal with emotions and feelings and you're unhappy about it, it's important to talk to someone you trust. Keeping your feelings hidden is not helpful to you or to other people around you. It won’t make you feel any better and the problem is unlikely to go away.

Who do eating disorders affect and when?

Worried about a friend or relative?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age, sex or cultural or racial background. But the people most likely to be affected tend to be young women, particularly between the ages of 15 and 25.

Research has shown that your genes may have some influence on whether or not you develop an eating disorder. In situations where there are high academic expectations, family issues or social pressures, you may focus on food and eating as a way of coping with these stresses.

Traumatic events can sometimes trigger an eating disorder. This might include bereavement, being bullied or abused, an upheaval in the family (such as divorce) or concerns about sexuality. Someone with a long-term illness or disability (such as diabetes, depression, blindness or deafness) may also experience eating problems.

Types of eating disorder

There are several different types of eating disorder. The most common are anorexia, binge eating and bulimia. For more information on the symptoms and causes of these conditions and the treatment and help available, see:

Help and support

For advice on ways to help a friend, see Supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Find out more about the help available to people with eating disorders on the website of beat, the eating disorders charity. Beat also has a dedicated section for young people.



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