Eating 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
Types of eating disorders
Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone
physically, psychologically (mentally) and socially (their ability to
interact with others). The most common eating disorders are:
anorexia nervosa, when someone tries to keep their weight
as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising
bulimia, when someone tries to control their weight by
binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives
(medication to help empty their bowels)
binge eating, when someone feels compelled to overeat
Eating disorders that do not fit with the above definitions may be
atypical eating disorders
eating disorders not otherwise specified
Causes of 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.
There may be some biological or predisposing (influencing) factors,
combined with an experience that may provoke the disorder, plus other
factors that encourage the condition to continue.
Risk factors that can make someone more likely to have an eating disorder
having a family history of eating disorders, depression
or substance misuse
being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or
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 characteristics, for example, having an obsessive
personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a
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
How common are eating disorders?
Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa
at some point. The condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17.
Bulimia is around five times more common than anorexia nervosa and 90% of
people with bulimia are female. It usually develops around the age of 18
or 19. Binge eating usually affects males and females equally
and usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 40. Due to
the difficulty of precisely defining binge eating, it is not clear how
widespread the condition is.
If it is not treated, an eating disorder can have a negative impact on
someoneís job or schoolwork, and can disrupt relationships with family
members and friends. The physical effects of an eating disorder can
sometimes be fatal. Treatment for eating disorders is available, although
recovering from an eating disorder can take a long time. It is important
for the person affected to want to get better, and the support of family
and friends is invaluable. Treatment usually involves monitoring a
personís physical health while helping them to deal with the underlying
psychological causes. This may involve:
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): therapy that focuses
on changing how someone thinks about a situation, which in turn will
affect how they act
interpersonal psychotherapy: a talking therapy that
focuses on relationship-based issues
dietary counselling: a talking therapy to help people
maintain a healthy diet
psychodynamic therapy: counselling that focuses on how a
personís personality and life experiences influence their current
thoughts, feelings, relationships and behaviour
If you would like to discuss any of the
mental health issues raised on this page or find out how counselling might
is the leading UK charity for people with eating disorders and
their families. BEAT is
the working name of the Eating Disorders Association, and we
continue to build on the strong foundations of the past 20 years
National Centre for Eating Disorders
Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge & Compulsive Overeating, Orthorexia & Obesity.
Everything you need about eating
disorders treatment, information and professional training in the help &
treatment of eating disorders.
organisation providing help and support to anyone affected by an eating
problem such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.
It also provides help for those who are caring for, or supporting someone
with an eating disorder.
helps people take control of their mental health. We do this by providing
high-quality information and advice, and campaigning to promote and protect
good mental health for everyone. How can we help you
In this section you will find a
selection of leaflets you can download or print.
Leaflet from Royal College of Psychiatrists
Leaflet from Counselling Directory
Self help leaflet from NHS Northumberland
Swindon and District Samaritans has been
offering emotional support to those in crisis for more than 40 years. You
can call or email 24hrs a day.
Local branch of the national charity providing support,
resources and drop-in sessions.
Swindon Post Natal Depression
The group was set up to provide a place where
parents and concerned family or friends can share stories, offer
advice, swap tips and make new friends. Events are arranged to
raise money to fund counsellor led group sessions and the group is
committed to help provide regular support groups locally. The
group was founded and run by Lesley Hughes who continues to
experience the wealth of emotions and feelings that PND brings.
Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
SWEDA is based on the principles of self help, we
believe in enabling and empowering people to live with as normal and
satisfying a quality of life as possible. We are motivated by the importance
of honesty, openness, and trust in relationships with all users of our
services, and SWEDA's confidentiality policy aims to support these