What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that involves a person developing thoughts, feelings and eating behaviours which can take over their life and make them very unwell.
Eating disorders can mean someone is eating too much or too little and becoming really unhappy, worried and preoccupied with things such as weight and shape.
It’s important to remember that lots of people worry about what they look like and from time to time might be unhappy with their weight or shape, but for someone with an eating disorder these thoughts and feelings can have a serious impact on their life, their physical health, education and general daily life. This could cause them to feel unhappy in situations they would normally enjoy such as spending time with friends, and family, going out and taking part in activities.
There is no one cause of an eating disorder. Young people who develop eating difficulties and disorders often tell us that eating or not eating can be a way of coping with feelings of sadness, worry and stress, from events such as exams, bullying, friendship or family relationship difficulties. Bereavement or loss may also play a part in how someone copes or feels about themselves.
Some personal factors such as having low self-esteem, experiencing anxiety or depression, setting high standards and being 'perfectionists' or identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual) can be associated with people who develop eating disorders. However, experiencing any one of these things does not necessarily mean that someone will develop an eating disorder or difficulty.
There are many different types of eating disorders and all of them are serious. All eating disorders are treatable and a full recovery is possible so if you are having difficulties, ask for help and advice as soon as possible.
Not everyone who has an eating disorder will experience all the signs and symptoms. Also, if you are experiencing some of these signs and symptoms this does necessarily mean that you have an eating disorder, but it is important to get help and advice.
- Constant thinking or worrying about food, calories, weight gain or your shape. You might notice that it is hard to concentrate on other things
- Reducing your food in order to lose weight and setting yourself strict rules about what you can or cannot eat
- Trying to do other things to lose weight, such as lots of exercise, vomiting, taking laxatives (medication to help you go to the toilet) or slimming pills
- You might become tired and more emotional (tearful, irritable), and if you’re a girl, your periods might stop
- Other people might start noticing and commenting that they are worried about you
- It is common for people with eating difficulties to not see that there is a real problem. You may not understand why others are concerned or you might disagree that there is a problem altogether. This may make you feel angry and frustrated.
- Try to be honest about how you are feeling with those around you. The quicker you can get help, the better the outcome.
- 3Take things one day at a time, each meal at a time. If you have a difficult meal or snack, start the next one afresh.
- Find things that will motivate you to maintain a healthy eating pattern when things are hard. Things like going out with friends, doing sports and activities and achieving goals that you have set yourself.
Sussex Partnership is aware of these outside resources for additional help and support. These are not connected with Sussex Partnership and there is no guarantee that you will receive any benefit from these.
- What’s eating you? A Workbook for Teens with Anorexia, Bulimia, and Other Eating Disorders by Tammy Nelson
- Getting Over Overeating for Teens: A Workbook to Transform Your Relationship with Food Using CBT, Mindfulness, and Intuitive Eating by Andrea Watcher
- Body Image Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help Girls Develop a Healthy Body Image in an Image-Obsessed World by Julia Taylor
- Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Lisa Scab
- Service Leaflet - Pan-Sussex Children, Young People and Family Eating Disorder Service
- Understanding Eating Difficulties
- Is there a link between social media and eating difficulties?
- Ted-X talk - Catherine explains how and why she slipped into anorexia
The Mix - Essential support for under 25s