The eating disorders you are likely to have heard most about are anorexia and bulimia (full names anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa). There is also a disorder called binge eating disorder (BED) and compulsive overeating.
But things aren’t as simple as that. There are variations of the different eating disorders, you can get some symptoms of an eating disorder but not others, referred to as eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). It is also common to get symptoms of 2 types of eating disorders together, most commonly, anorexia with some symptoms of bulimia.
If you think you might have a problem with eating habits and food, or you are concerned about someone else, read through these basic symptoms. If any of these do seem relevant to you or someone you know, it could suggest an eating disorder.
Symptoms of eating disorders
With any type of eating disorder, there are physical, behavioural and psychological signs. Click on the link to the EDA website to find out the detailed signs of different types of eating disorders.
In brief, the signs are the following:
- Anorexia nervosa: Severe weight loss, periods stop in girls, lying about eating meals, excessive exercising, denying there is a problem, distorted perception of body size and weight.
- Bulimia nervosa: Bingeing on large quantities of food and then deliberately being sick or taking laxatives afterwards to rid the body of the food; feelings of shame about food habits, guilt and depression, repeatedly being sick causes swollen glands in the face and neck, mouth infections and damaged teeth.
- Binge eating: Weight gain, eating excessively large quantities of food, eating large quantities of sugary, starchy, fatty foods, being secretive about eating habits, feeling depressed, out of control and very emotional behaviour.
Why do people get eating disorders?
One of the main things to remember is that eating disorders are not ‘a slimmer’s disease’. They do not develop because the person is just unhappy about their weight.
It is true that eating disorders are very rare in societies where being thin is not regarded as highly attractive, and in Western culture where pressure to be thin is all around, eating disorders are more common. However, the pressure from this ideal is not what causes eating disorders.
It is agreed that the reason behind the development of an eating disorder is the sufferer feeling that they lack control in their life. Controlling and severely limiting food intake in anorexia is a demonstration of independence.
What is important to remember is that whilst food is a hugely important issue for people suffering from eating disorders, the disorder is actually an expression of feelings and emotions about things the sufferer believes they cannot control.
Treatment of eating disorders
Since the development of an eating disorder is the expression of feelings and emotions, it is impossible to treat an eating disorder without addressing those underlying feelings.
For most people the first step to getting treatment is to talk to your GP. If you don’t feel comfortable going to your usual GP because they are a family friend you could ask to see another doctor in the practice, or see the practice nurse. You could even move practices (see the section on healthcare for information about how to do this).
There is a range of treatment options your GP might offer you. The treatment they will recommend depends on the severity of your disorder. Visit the EDA website if you want to know more about the types of treatment that may be available to you.
If you are over 16, your GP has to respect your wishes if you don’t want your parents or carers or partner to know about your conversation with them. But keep in mind that your family could be a good source of support.
If however you are under 18 and your GP is seriously concerned that you are in danger because of your eating disorder, they may talk to your parents or carers. They will not do this behind your back, they will tell you and you will have the chance to explain your worries.
Who can help?
If you think you might have an eating disorder, or know someone else who has, you can visit beat (‘beating eating disorders’) at www.b-eat.co.uk/Home for advice and information.
You can also call their youth helpline on 0845 634 7650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.