Eating disorders

An eating disorder is a mental health condition where you use the control of food to cope with feelings and other situations.

Unhealthy eating behaviours may include eating too much or too little. You might also worry about your weight or body shape.

These eating habits and behaviours can affect you physically, mentally, and socially. With treatment, most people can recover from an eating disorder.

Types of eating disorders

There are a number of different types of eating disorder. The most common ones are:

  • anorexia nervosa – where a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible by strictly controlling and limiting what they eat
  • bulimia – where a person overeats and then tries to avoid gaining weight by ‘purging’ – for example, by vomiting or taking laxatives
  • binge eating – where a person feels they have to overeat through regular binges

Other eating disorders may be described as::

  • atypical eating disorders
  • eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

Other conditions that affect food and eating

Some conditions involve food and eating, but aren’t related to concerns about weight or body shape. These include avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). ARFID causes a person to avoid certain foods or types of food, restrict how much they eat, or both.

Learn more about ARFID on the Beat website

Causes of eating disorders

Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin, but the causes are usually more complex. There are lots of possible reasons why a person might develop an eating disorder, and the causes are different for everybody.

These causes can be thought of as psychological, environmental, and biological.

Treatment of eating disorders

An eating disorder can have a major impact on your life. It can affect your relationships, job, schoolwork, and physical health. Without treatment, in the most extreme cases, eating disorders can be fatal.

With all eating disorders, the first step is recognising that there’s a problem and being willing to seek help. If you’re worried that you have an eating disorder, the first step towards getting help is usually speaking to your GP.

Types of treatment for eating disorders

Treating an eating disorder usually involves monitoring physical health and supporting mental health.

The type of treatment used depends on:

  • the person involved
  • how serious their condition is
  • what type of eating disorder they have

For some people, self-help or guided self-help can be effective. It may help them to change the way they think about food and body shape.

When guided self-help isn’t appropriate, or wouldn’t be effective enough on its own, the main treatment is psychological therapy.

Medication alone isn’t usually effective for eating disorders. For some people it can be helpful to prescribe medication in combination with psychological treatment.

Other support

A leading charity for people with eating disorders is Beat. It has a range of information on the help and support available for people with eating disorders, and their friends and families.

Last updated:
29 November 2023

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