Eating Disorders

What is an eating disorder?

Food is an essential part of our lives; we need it to survive. When people are under stress, their appetite and the way they view food are often affected. They may lose interest in eating; they may eat more than usual or crave certain types of food. Very often this will pass when their lives return to normal and the difficulties are resolved.

However, for some people food can become an overwhelming concern which comes to dominate their lives.  They may develop eating habits that become damaging to their physical and psychological health. It may get to the stage where food is all they think about. They may try to control their intake of food by avoiding eating or they may find it difficult to stop eating even when they are full. Some people use potentially harmful ways to try to lose weight such as making themselves vomit, using laxatives or over exercising. When someone’s eating behaviour and attitudes to eating become affected to this extent, they may have what is known as an “eating disorder”.

There are three main categories of eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and a more general category which includes Binge-Eating Disorder.  Although they differ in some ways, they also share common features and sufferers can move from one diagnosis to another over time.

In general, eating disorders tend to develop over time and often during times of personal stress and uncertainty.

Who gets eating disorders?

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are ten times more common in females than males, although they are becoming increasingly common in males. They also occur more often in people who have been overweight in childhood.

Eating disorders often have a significant impact on someone's life.  They can affect health and well-being, work, family and social life and relationships with others.

How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

If you think you might have an eating disorder try answering the following questions:

  1. Do you make yourself sick because you’re uncomfortably full?
  2. Do you worry that you’ve lost control over how much you eat?
  3. Have you recently lost more than 6 kilograms (about a stone) in three months?
  4. Do you believe you’re fat when others say you’re thin?
  5. Would you say that food dominates your life?

This will not tell you if you definitely have an eating disorder or not. However, as a rough guide, if you answer yes to two or more of these questions you may have an eating disorder and it would be worth making an appointment with your doctor to discuss this further.

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

Eating disorders in men

What can you do if you think you have an eating disorder?

If you think you might have an eating disorder, it is important that you speak to your doctor or another practitioner at your GP Practice.

If you discover that you have an eating disorder but you are not sure if you are ready to change this , it is still an important first step to ask at your GP Practice about monitoring of your health.  This is because eating disorders have an impact on physical health. Your doctor might monitor things like your weight and blood pressure and they may do some blood tests. If your eating disorder is severe then they may need to do other investigations.

Further information and Self Help

If you decide that you are ready to do something about your eating disorder a good first step is to find out as much information as possible. A number of useful eating disorders websites, books and self help guides can be found below.


If your eating disorder is more severe or you are not managing to make significant changes to your eating disorder using the self help material then you may need to get some outside help. Treatment for eating disorders can involve contact with a psychologist, doctor or dietician. See your GP for further advice.

Centre for Clinical InterventionsThe CCI has a range of resources to help you overcome disordered eating.

BEAT eating disorders The eating disorders charity BEAT has loads of information and resources and can offer support for anyone dealing with an eating disorder