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Eating disorders

Eating disorders can affect anyone, not just girls and people in their teens or early twenties. There are a few different types and each disorder has different symptoms. Help is available from your doctor or some specialist organisations.

What are eating disorders

People who suffer from an eating disorder use food to help them cope with stress or difficult situations; often without realising it. They use food in order to stay in control of their life and their emotions. It can stop them making realistic decisions about what they eat and how much they should eat.

Most people with an eating disorder have developed one due to a combination of reasons. These include:

  • depression
  • a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • problems in personal or family relationships
  • domestic violence or physical abuse
  • worries about their personal appearance

If they go undetected, eating disorders can cause real health problems. They can stop the body getting all the essential energy and nutrients it needs to function properly.

Although a lot of people with eating disorders are females between 15 and 25, there are a growing number of men who are seeking help.

Remember that sufferers of an eating disorder will not always have the same symptoms as someone else who has the same problem.


Sufferers of anorexia nervosa severely reduce the amount of food they eat due to a fear of gaining weight. Some sufferers can eat nothing or fast for a number of days, skip meals and do too much exercise.

People who have anorexia can lose a lot of weight and view their body size as being larger than their actual size. In severe cases, people can die from the effects of anorexia as the body cannot function properly, especially if they do not seek any help.


Bulimia nervosa is different from anorexia and is actually more common.

Bulimics eat large amounts of food very quickly and then make themselves sick or take laxatives to get rid of it all. They can also starve themselves for short periods of time.

This happens in cycles. Depending on how seriously the person suffers from bulimia, cycles can happen every few months or even several times every day.

Bulimia can be a lot more difficult to detect than anorexia. Whereas anorexics lose a great deal of weight, a bulimic’s weight usually stays the same even though their problems with eating and food remain.

Binge eating

Not all eating disorders cause weight loss. Binge eaters can gain large amounts of weight because they eat large amounts of food, even when they're not actually hungry.

Binge eating is usually in response to negative moods. Binge eaters can become obese and can develop problems with their heart, blood pressure and general level of fitness.

Where to get help

If you think you or one of your friends or relatives have an eating disorder, talk to a doctor. They can suggest ways of treating the problem and give you details of support groups in your local area.

You can also contact the b-eat Youthline by telephone, text or email message. All the advisers are experienced in listening to young people who feel they have problems with food. Anything that you say over the phone will be kept confidential.

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