Eating Disorders

Eating disorders occur when someone’s eating habits become unhealthy and they start to affect their physical health, either by eating too much or too little.

Eating disorders can develop from many different things such as a mental health problem or past traumas, and they can take several forms. The most common are Anorexia and Bulimia. A doctor will make a diagnosis of an eating disorder based on eating habits, weight and body mass index (BMI).

For young people, it can become confusing as they grow up and experience changes in their body which they cannot control. Sometimes confused thoughts and feelings during childhood and adolescence can lead to eating disorders: 

  • Not being able to control anything else in your life other than your body
  • Wanting to be popular
  • Copying behavior from others
  • Staring a diet but not being able to stop
  • Hating your body after a traumatic event or abuse
  • Feeling you aren’t good enough
  • Not returning to normal after suffering an illness


Girls are ten times more likely to get anorexia than boys. It is a very serious condition when someone worries excessively about their weight and eats less than they should in order to rapidly lose weight.

Signs and symptoms

  • Eating less
  • Exercising too much
  • Distress at meal times and not wanting to eat in front of other people
  • Feeling fat
  • Obsession with body image and always comparing themselves to others
  • Changes in character
  • Low mood and irritability
  • Cutting out food they used to enjoy
  • Being withdrawn
  • Lying about what they are eating or how much they exercise

How you might be feeling

  • Can’t stop thinking about food
  • That you’re never good enough or that you need to be perfect
  • Scared of putting on weight
  • Scared of your family and friends finding out
  • Angry when someone asks you questions about it
  • Anxious, depressed or suicidal

What might happen to your body

  • Weigh less than you should
  • Feel weak and cold
  • Be underdeveloped
  • Periods can stop
  • Hair can get thin and even fall out
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Brittle bones


Bulimia is an eating disorder when someone over eats and is then sick or uses laxatives to get rid of the food they have consumed. Like anorexia, bulimia is serious and can destroy your body so it is crucial to get help and find other ways of coping.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Obsessively thinking about weight
  • Bing eating
  • Throwing up
  • Taking laxative
  • Exercising too much
  • Not sleeping
  • Isolating
  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Low mood and no interest in things
  • Stomach cramps
  • Feeling out of control

How you might be feeling

  • That you aren’t good enough
  • That you hate your body
  • Lonely
  • Depressed or anxious
  • Trying to gain control
  • Low and upset
  • Guilty
  • Scared of friends or family finding out

What might happen to your body

  • Your weight might stay roughly the same or go up and down regularly.
  • You could become dehydrated which can affect your skin
  • Stomach acid can harm your teeth and throat if you are sick often
  • Using laxatives too much could cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stretched colon or constipation.

Binge Eating

Binge eating, also known as Compulsive Eating, is where someone can’t stop eating – even if they want to. This involves eating when you’re not hungry and not being able to stop when you’re full. Some people eat too much to hide their feelings and use it as a way to make themselves feel better.

Symptoms of binge eating are when some of the following happen more than 3 times a week

  • Eating quicker than usual
  • Eating when you’re not hungry
  • Eating when you’re full
  • Eating in secret

How you might feel

  • Out of control and as if you can’t stop
  • Embarrassed
  • Lonely
  • Unhappy with your body
  • Low and worthless
  • Stressed

What might happen to your body

  • Put on weight
  • Might developed health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, IBS or acid reflux
  • Muscle pain
  • Feeling sick
  • Experience sugar highs and crashes

Support for eating disorders

People with eating disorders will try and hide it and may even lie about having them, but it is very important to talk to someone you trust and ask a doctor for help. They might be able to refer you to a specialist or prescribe medication to help.

If a young person has an eating disorder, they should talk to something they trust and work towards asking a professional for advice. You can find local professionals who can help here Hub of Hope.

More self-help resources can be found on our mental health support page.

Useful websites

Visit our Resources and Helplines page for more support – Further Resources & Helplines – Be Free YC