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Eating disorders

eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that often manifest as unhealthy relationships with food and body image

Many of us have dealt with societal pressures tied to body image, causing concerns about our eating habits. However, when these habits persist and disrupt our lives, they may indicate the presence of an eating disorder.

Based on recent studies, a significant number of individuals in the UK grapple with various forms of eating disorders. According to BEAT, the leading charity on eating disorders, 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom have some form of eating disorder.

Spotting the signs of an eating disorder can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding body image and mental health. It’s essential to create a safe and supportive environment for those who might be living with eating disorders and their loved ones. By discussing these topics openly, we can better understand their challenges and provide them with the necessary support to prevent the situation from escalating and becoming life-threatening.

Common myths about eating disorders

eating disorders
only affect women

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or background. In fact, 25% of individuals with eating disorders are male, and there is a rising trend of hospital admissions for boys and young men.

eating disorder
is a lifestyle choice

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can be fatal. People with these disorders have a higher mortality rate, nearly twice as high as the average, and nearly 6 times higher for those with anorexia.

eating disorder
is a cry for attention

Eating disorders are often hidden or denied by those who suffer from them, and many do not even realise that they have a problem. In reality, it often takes several years for someone to reach out for support.

Causes and risk factors

There is no one singular cause, but eating disorders can stem from various factors, including: 

Genetic factors: A family history of eating disorders may increase an individual’s susceptibility.

Psychological factors: Eating disorders can co-occur with other mental health conditions like PTSD, bipolar or depression.

Societal pressures: Unrealistic beauty standards and societal expectations can impact body image and trigger unhealthy relationships with food.

Trauma: Past traumatic experiences, such as abuse or bullying, may contribute to the development of eating disorders as a coping mechanism.

Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism or a desire for control, may indicate a vulnerability to eating disorders.

It’s important to note that being neurodivergent can contribute to developing an eating disorder, especially for autistic people who may have sensory issues leading to developing ARFID – Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Research suggests that up to 30% of those diagnosed with anorexia are autistic.


The symptoms of eating disorders vary, and not everyone will experience the same signs. Some common indicators may include: 

  • Obsession with body weight and shape 
  • Severe restriction or excessive consumption of food 
  • Purging behaviours, such as vomiting or excessive exercise 
  • Distorted body image 
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Social withdrawal 

What are the different types of eating disorders? 

Eating disorders encompass various conditions, each presenting distinct symptoms. Some of the most common types include: 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa involves deliberately restricting food intake and engaging in excessive exercise to maintain an extremely low body weight, often accompanied by a distorted body image and a desire for control.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by recurring cycles of binge eating followed by purging behaviours, such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise, to prevent weight gain, impacting both physical and mental wellbeing.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder entails consuming large quantities of food in a short time, leading to discomfort, without compensatory purging behaviours, often resulting in feelings of guilt and shame.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

Characterised by limited food preferences, avoidance of certain foods or textures, and restrictions in overall food intake that can result in nutritional deficiencies, weight loss and difficulties in daily functioning. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not driven by concerns about weight or body shape.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

OSFED is a common diagnosis for individuals not fitting specific eating disorder criteria, serving to cope with emotions and assert control over their lives.

How do I manage my eating disorder?

Effectively managing an eating disorder involves a combination of self-care strategies and seeking professional support. Firstly, identifying and understanding triggers is crucial. This self-awareness enables individuals to anticipate and prepare for challenging situations.

Next, developing a routine that includes balanced meals, regular exercise and emotional support can positively impact overall wellbeing. Therapeutic techniques, such as mindfulness and cognitive-behavioural strategies, may aid in addressing unhealthy thought patterns.

You can also set realistic goals, break tasks into smaller steps, and practice positive self-talk to contribute to a more manageable mindset. Most importantly, you need to connect with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or dietitian. Discussing these with professionals allows you to develop healthy coping strategies and provides a supportive space to explore and address underlying issues contributing to the eating disorder.

What kind of therapy is usually used for eating disorders? 

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often recommended as a primary therapeutic approach for eating disorders. It focuses on identifying and challenging distorted thoughts and behaviours related to food, body image, and self-worth.  

However, individualised treatment plans, which may include a combination of therapies and, in some cases, medication, are essential. Consulting with a medical professional can help determine the most suitable approach for an individual’s needs. 

How do I support someone with an eating disorder?

If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, it can be challenging and scary. Supporting such a person requires empathy, patience and open communication. Start by expressing your concerns and asking if there is anything you can do to help. It is essential to listen without judgment and validate their feelings.

Learning about eating disorders can provide insight into their struggles, help identify coping mechanisms and promote self-care. Suggest talking to a GP and offer support in doing so. Offer support and encouragement in all their efforts to make positive changes, no matter how small, and try to maintain support. Remember that families, friends, and colleagues need support, help, and encouragement to help those struggling with eating disorders, so when appropriate, check in with their loved ones.

If their symptoms are severe, encourage them to seek professional help. You can check reputable mental health resources for more information on supporting individuals with eating disorders on the NHS website. 


Beat is a leading charity for eating disorder support and our support page lists places you can contact if you need urgent help. 

Organisations like SupportED or NEEDS offer various forms of support, including peer support groups, befriending and support for carers of people diagnosed with eating disorders.

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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