We have included information on eating disorders as they are very common and related to how we see ourselves. This is a view that is created by social expectations of what the 'ideal body' should be and can be a powerful influence in a young person's life.


What are eating disorders?
- Eating disorders are characterised by abnormal attitudes towards food, difficulty controlling how much is eaten, and making unhealthy choices about food that ultimately damage the body
- Sufferers often have mental health problems that contribute to their abnormal thoughts
about food and body image
- Anorexia and Bulimia are two of the most common eating disorders which are discussed more below

What causes eating disorders? 

- There is unlikely to be a single cause of an eating disorder- it is usually a combination of factors 

- Many people use food as a coping mechanism as controlling what they eat can help control difficult and emotional situations. Some of these situations may include:

  • Difficult family relationships
  • The death of someone special
  • Stress 
  • Problems at work, school or university
  • Sexual or emotional abuse

- Low self esteem can also be a cause of eating disorders, thinking that they are not good
enough and blaming this on being too fat
- There may also be a genetic cause, with an imbalance of some chemical levels in the
brain which can contribute

Who gets eating disorders?
- Eating disorders are most common in teenage girls

- However, 10% of all eating disorders are in men

- Eating disorders are becoming more common in men

- People who are middle-aged can still develop an eating disorder, it is not exclusive to teenagers 




- People who have anorexia have problems with eating. They are very anxious about their
weight. They keep it as low as possible, by strictly controlling and limiting what they eat and by sometimes exercising excessively
- In teenagers and young adults, the condition affects about 1 in 250 females and 1 in
2000 males
- Symptoms of Anorexia

  • The main symptom of anorexia is the loss of a lot of weight deliberately - People with anorexia like to have full control over what they are eating and may do this by:
    • trict dieting
    • Counting the calories in food excessively
    • Avoiding food that they think is fattening
    • Eating only low-calorie food
    • Missing meals (fasting)
    • Avoiding eating with other people
    • Hiding food
    • Cutting food into tiny pieces - to make it less obvious that they have eaten very little, and the food is easier to swallow
    • Taking appetite suppressants such as slimming pills or diet pills.
    • People with anorexia may also drink lots of fluids that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and low calorie fizzy drinks
  • Eating too little for a long time can cause health problems, resulting in physical symptoms:
    • fine downy hair may grow on their body
    • Hair on their face may increase, or their pubic hair may become sparse and thin.
    • Periods may stop in girls
    • Pain in the abdomen 
    • Feel bloated or constipated
    • Feel light-headed or dizzy


  • If you are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, your GP will probably be involved in your ongoing treatment and care, and an overall health assessment is likely to be carried out
  • Where treatment is given depends on how severe the anorexia is, it can be: as an outpatient (at home- this is most common), as a day patient or in a day unit, as in inpatient in hospital (f your weight loss or symptoms are severe)
  • Treatment for anorexia usually includes psychological treatment - talking to a therapist or counsellor, advice on eating, your diet and nutrition, to help you gain weight safely


  • People with anorexia can recover, but it may take a long time and be very difficult for the person, and their friends and family
  • To recover, someone with anorexia needs to: gain weight safely, change their eating habits, change the way they think about food. 
  • Research studies have shown that: about 43% of people with anorexia recover completely, 36% improve, 20% develop a chronic eating disorder, 5% die from the condition 



- People with bulimia tend to alternate between eating excessive amounts of food (bingeing), and making themselves sick, or using laxatives (purging), in order to maintain a chosen weight
- This is usually done in secret. People with bulimia purge themselves because they feel guilty about the binge eating, but the bingeing is a compulsive act that they feel they cannot control

-Symptoms of Bulimia

  • The main symptoms are binging and purging
  • Binging is repeatedly eating vast quantities of high-calorie food, without necessarily feeling hungry, or needing to eat 
  • Purging is a response to the bingeing. The most common methods of purging involve making yourself sick, or using laxatives to encourage your body to pass the food quickly. 
  • Other signs of bulimia can include:
    • Regular changes in weight
    • An obsessive attitude towards food and eating
    • Episodes of over-eating
    • Periods of starvation
    • Scarred knuckles (from forcing fingers down the throat to induce vomiting)
    • Depression and anxiety

Here is a resource on eating disorders from the Nutritionist Resource


  • Is very similar to the treatment for anorexia - The main treatment method is psychological treatment aimed at re- establishing healthy attitudes towards food again
  • Some medications that are often used to treat depression can also be used - Bulimia is very rarely treated in hospital 

This is a great website page for more information on Healthline.


Getting help for eating disorders 

- The first step is recognising that there is a problem- people with eating disorders are
extremely secretive about their problem so it maybe friends and family who recognise the problem first
- A lot of people find going to their GP very helpful as they are someone who will listen,
offer advice, and start the treatment process
- There are lots of websites and hotlines designed to help people with eating disorders
and give them advice. One website set up especially for young people is: www.b-eat.co.uk/YoungPeople/Home