Q&A: Eating disorders

Last reviewed on 18 March 2021

Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any age and for many different reasons. For some young people, it’s a way of coping with stress or anxiety. For others, it’s because they are worried about the way they look.

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“Living with any eating disorder is difficult, exhausting and painful.” James

“The whole coronavirus pandemic has already been an anxious time for me and I know it has been the same for many struggling with an eating disorder.” Habiba

“... what I found the hardest was the constant lying – the guilt I felt every time I tried to conceal secretive behaviour from my family, my friends and myself.” Emma

If you have an unhealthy relationship with food that is starting to take over your life and is making you ill, it’s important that you get help as soon as you can. In this article, we answer some of the questions you might have and direct you to support organisations, such as Beat.

* The quotes above were taken with kind permission from blogs on the Beat website.

Eating disorders can develop for various reasons. It might happen if you’re:

  • Feeling stressed (e.g. about exams or COVID-19)
  • Worried about how your body looks
  • Concerned about putting on weight
  • Being bullied, criticised or put under pressure
  • Experiencing low self-esteem
  • Going through hormonal changes
  • Training for a particular sport
  • Having difficulties with your family, friends or other relationships

You can find further information on the Beat website.

There isn’t an eating disorder checklist as everyone is different but you might find that you’re:

  • Thinking about food all the time
  • Eating less or more than normal
  • Exercising a lot
  • Losing or putting on weight quickly
  • Checking the calorie or fat content of food
  • Making yourself sick
  • Taking laxatives
  • Feeling cold and tired
  • Weighing yourself often
  • Experiencing irregular periods

For further information, visit the Beat website.

There are various types of eating disorders, including:

  • Anorexia Nervosa (restricting how much food you eat)
  • Binge Eating Disorder (regularly eating large portions of food)
  • Bulimia (binging on food followed by vomiting, fasting and other ways of purging)
  • Orthorexia (having an unhealthy obsession with eating “clean”)
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
  • Diabulimia (when a person with diabetes purposefully restricts insulin to lose weight)

You can find more details on the Beat website.

It can be more difficult to recover from an eating disorder on your own so don’t be afraid to ask for help. We recommend that you do the following:

  • Tell someone you trust: Perhaps you could start by talking to a friend or a sibling? Explain to them what’s happening, how long it’s been going on and how it makes you feel. If you’d prefer to speak to a trained advisor, there are free and confidential helplines available, such as Beat’s Youthline (0808 801 0711) and YoungMinds Crisis Messenger (text YM to 85258).
  • Get support from others: Find a group – either online or face-to-face – where you can chat to people with eating disorders and others who have recovered from them. You don’t have to deal with this on your own. Beat’s support services include chat rooms (one-to-one or in a group) and message boards.
  • Talk to your GP: This might seem like a big step but your GP will help you to determine exactly what’s going on and can transfer you to a specialist eating disorder service for treatment. If you’re nervous about going on your own, take a friend or relative with you. If you, or someone else, is in crisis, call 999. For urgent, non-emergency medical advice, call NHS 111.

The Beat website contains detailed advice about recovery. You’ll find information about diabulimia on the Diabetes UK website.

If you’re worried that a friend or a loved one might be developing an eating disorder, the warning signs include:

  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Being secretive about food
  • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating
  • Exercising obsessively
  • Eating very slowly
  • Hiding their body in baggy clothes
  • Going on strict diets and/or taking diet pills

Visit the Beat website for information about how to support someone.

The eating disorder charity Beat has some useful tips to help you find the right words. They include the following reassuring phrases:

  • “I know it’s difficult, but I’m proud of you.”
  • “I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to, I will help as much as I can.”
  • “How are you?”
  • “You’re worth more than your eating disorder.”
  • “I believe in you.”

You’re not alone. Please check out the websites below or call one of the helplines if you need support for an eating disorder.

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