The content here talks about eating disorders, eating disorder behaviors, weight and body image, and references suicide and self-harm, which some people may find triggering.
If you have an eating disorder, the most important thing you can do is to tell someone and get the support that you need. Even if things feel really scary right now, recovery is possible. You don’t need to cope like this forever. There are effective treatments for eating disorders and the earlier you get help the better.
If you are frequently making yourself sick or your body weight is very low, you should see a doctor as a matter of urgency. If you’re experiencing severe chest pain you should call emergency services or go to your nearest emergency department.
Eating disorders can have serious physical and mental health consequences. It’s perhaps not surprising then that people who struggle with these conditions can sometimes have thoughts about taking their own life.
Think about wanting to die or killing yourself
Have made plans to end your life
Feel hopeless, like a burden to others or that things will never get any better
Have attempted suicide in the past
It’s really important to tell someone how you feel. If you have seriously harmed yourself or feel that you are in immediate danger of doing so, call emergency services or go to your local emergency department. You can also find links to local options for crisis support in the sidebar or here. There are people who can help you and it’s important to talk to someone immediately.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are serious and complex mental health problems where someone uses food to try and cope with difficult emotions or other situations. People with an eating disorder usually focus too much on their weight, body, and food, which leads to problem eating behaviors. Eating disorders can result in serious medical, psychological, and social problems, and often require specialist treatment. However, most people can recover from an eating disorder.
What are the most common eating disorders?
The most common eating disorders are:
Anorexia is when someone tries to control their weight by restricting their food intake, exercising too much, or both. People with anorexia generally try to keep their body weight as low as possible and have an intense fear of gaining weight. They also often have a distorted view of their bodies and feel that they are "fat" when they are underweight.
The complications of anorexia
The potential physical health complications of anorexia include low blood sugar, dry skin, brittle nails, loss of periods for females, fainting, and a slower-than-normal heart rate. People with anorexia can also experience depression, feelings of hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
Bulimia is when someone loses control over how much they eat and then tries to get rid of the food by purging, i.e. making themselves sick, misusing laxatives, or compulsively exercising. People with bulimia often eat a very large amount of food in a small space of time before trying to get rid of it. They generally fear putting on weight and are very critical of their body.
The complications of bulimia
The potential physical health complications of bulimia include muscle pain and weakness, tooth loss (from self-induced vomiting), constipation, diarrhea, and heart problems.
If you do make yourself sick, try not to brush your teeth straight away as this can rub stomach acid into your gums and cause decay. Try to wait at least an hour and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash in the meantime.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is where someone regularly eats very large amounts of food until they feel uncomfortably full. During binge eating episodes, people with BED may eat very rapidly, eat alone and feel very embarrassed about what’s happening. After a binge episode, people with BED often feel disgusted, guilty, or depressed.
The complications of BED
The potential physical health complications of BED include weight gain and polycystic ovaries in females.
Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED)
OSFED is where someone has a mixture of symptoms of eating disorders that may change over time. OSFED is the most common eating disorder.
All eating disorders should be taken seriously.
What causes eating disorders?
There are lots of different reasons why someone might develop an eating disorder and it’s generally more complex than out-of-control dieting, weight control, or media pressure to be "thin".
Often, people with eating disorders use food to try and cope with difficult emotions or to manage other difficult situations. Anyone can develop an eating disorder no matter their age, gender, cultural or racial background.
Do I have an eating disorder?
There’s a lot of focus in society on how we look and most of us feel pressure to look a certain way. From social media, adverts, fashion magazines and the type of people typically cast in films and television shows, images of very slim, fit, and attractive people are everywhere. It’s perhaps not surprising then that lots of people worry about their body image and try to diet. However, if worries about your body start to take over your life and change the way you behave around food, you may have an eating disorder.
The following questions can help you think about whether you may have an eating disorder:
Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?
Have you recently lost more than one stone (14 lb) in a 3-month period?
Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
Would you say that food dominates your life?
If you can answer yes to two or more of these questions, you may have an eating disorder and should see your doctor. If you are struggling with eating and it’s having a negative impact on you but you answered no to all of the questions, you may still have an eating disorder. If you or other people are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, you should see your doctor.
Resources for eating disorders
You can find information and support for eating disorders in the following places:
BEAT is a charity for eating disorders and has information about eating disorders and helplines for people living in the UK. You can find their website here.
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre provides information, resources, referrals and support to Canadians affected by eating disorders. You can find their website here.
The Butterfly Foundation is a national charity for all Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues, and for the families, friends and communities who support them. You can find their website here.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. You can find their website here.
You can find free self-help modules for eating disorders at the Centre for Clinical Interventions here.
Getting Better Bite by Bite: A Survival Kit for Sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorders by Ulrike Schmidt, Janet Treasure and June Alexander
Overcoming Anorexia Nervosa 2nd Edition: A self-help guide using cognitive behavioral techniques by Patricia Graham and Christopher Freeman
Overcoming Binge Eating 2nd Edition: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop by Christopher Fairburn
For parents of children with an eating disorder:
Anorexia and other Eating Disorders: how to help your child eat well and be well: Practical solutions, compassionate communication tools and emotional support for parents of children and teenagers by Eva Musby. You can find a link to the authors website here.