Eating disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are characterised by an unhelpful attitude towards food.  A person with an eating disorder can be preoccupied with their weight, shape and food intake leading them to eat in an unhealthy manner which can damage their health. There are different types of eating disorders all of them can affect the person physically, psychologically and socially.

The most common types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa –the person is focusing on reducing their weight by reducing their calorie intake drastically and/or exercising excessively
  • Bulimia –the person controls their weight eating excessively and than deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)
  • Binge eating – the person feels compelled to overeat

Sometimes the person has some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating disorders but is in need of treatment

Who can get an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can affect a person of any gender and any age. However, statistics show that more women than men experience anorexia nervosa at some point. Bulimia is around five times more common than anorexia nervosa and 90% of people with bulimia are female. Binge eating usually affects males and females equally and usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 40. Due to the difficulty of precisely defining binge eating, it is not clear how widespread the condition is.

Risk factors for someone to develop an eating disorder include:

  • having a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • feeling judged and criticised for eating habits, body shape or weight
  • being overly concerned with being slim, particularly if combined with pressure to be slim from society or for a job (e.g. ballet dancers, models or athletes)
  • having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • difficult or traumatic experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone special
  • difficult relationships
  • stressful situations, for example problems at work, school or university

Treatment for eating disorders

An eating disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s whole life and health. This includes the person’s ability to cope with the normal demands of life (e.g. a job or schoolwork), the ability to engage in meaningful relationships and drastically reduced energy levels. The physical effects of an eating disorder can sometimes be fatal.

The treatment for eating disorders is available and effective. Depending on the cause, it can take some time to recover and it is important for the person affected to want to get better. Treatment is usually a combination of monitoring a person’s physical health and working with the underlying psychological causes. This may involve:

  • using self-help manuals and books, possibly under guidance from a therapist or other healthcare professional
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – therapy that focuses on changing how someone thinks about a situation, which in turn will affect how they act
  • Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) – a talking therapy that focuses on relationship-based issues
  • dietary counselling – a talking therapy to help people maintain a healthy diet
  • family therapy – therapy involving the family discussing how the eating disorder has affected them and their relationships
  • medication – for example, a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to treat bulimia nervosa or binge eating

How can The Insight Network help?

The SCOFF questionnaire can identify some of the symptoms which could indicate that you need help:


ick: Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?


ontrol: Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?


ne stone: Have you recently lost more than one stone (six kilograms) in a three-month period?


at: Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?


ood: Would you say that food dominates your life?

If you answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, please contact our team so we can put you in touch with the right clinician who you can meet for an initial assessment and advise the right treatment for you.

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