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Eating disorders

An eating disorder is a mental illness where someone uses the control of food to cope with their feelings or difficult situations

Eating disorders are a mental illness that affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. An eating disorder is when someone uses the control of food to cope with their feelings or difficult situations. There are many different types of eating disorders.

When you have an eating disorder, you might start doing things like eating more than you need or restricting how much you eat. It can make you feel out of control and you might stick to certain types of foods that make you feel comfortable. People sometimes eat in secret, think about food a lot or think about their body and weight all the time.

All this can change your appearance, behaviour, concentration and relationships, and potentially have you experiencing depression or anxiety along with physical health problems.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is when someone restricts the amount of food they eat in order to keep their weight as low as possible. They may also partake in excessive exercise to ensure no weight is gained from eating. Anorexia can cause severe physical problems due to the effects of starvation on the body, and is associated with a feeling of control.


People with bulimia go through periods of binging on food in a short amount of time and then purging the food to stop themselves gaining weight. This binge/purge cycle can dominate daily life and can lead to difficulty social situations.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder involves eating a lot of food in a short period of time until you’re uncomfortably full. It can be difficult to stop a binge even if the person wants to, and often people experience feelings of guilt after their binge.


OSFED stands for “other specified feeding or eating disorder”. This is a very common diagnosis that occurs when the person doesn’t fit the expected symptoms for the three aforementioned eating disorders. However OSFED accounts for the highest percentage of eating disorders, and is a way of coping with feelings and feeling in control.


This is not recognised as a clinical diagnosis, but refers to an obsession with eating ‘pure’ or ‘healthy foods’. This type of eating disorder can lead to physical problems as it may lead to the person cutting out entire food groups which are essential for a balanced diet.

It’s good to know what symptoms to look out for if you believe you or someone you know is developing an eating disorder.

Some behavioural symptoms

  • Diet and controlling food
  • Counting calories
  • Excessive exercise
  • Unusual food rituals
  • Going to the bathroom after meals
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food

Some physical symptoms

  • Noticeable weight gain/loss
  • Stomach issues
  • Hair loss
  • Low energy
  • Dental erosions

Some emotional symptoms

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Distorted self image
  • Intense fear of gaining weight

How we can help

There are many services out there which can give you support. Beat is a leading charity for eating disorder support and our support page lists places you can contact if you need urgent help.


If you or anyone you know requires support, our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

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