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Eating disorders

An eating disorder is when you have an unhealthy attitude towards food.

It can involve:

  • eating too much
  • eating too little
  • becoming obsessed with your weight and body shape

There are treatments that can help. You can recover from an eating disorder.

Men and women of any age can get an eating disorder. It usually develops first in the teenage years.

Types of eating disorders

The most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia
  • binge eating disorder (BED)
  • other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

Related topics

Anorexia nervosa


Binge eating disorder

How to know if you have an eating disorder

If you have an unhealthy relationship with food that's affecting your eating habits.

Symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
  • avoiding socialising that involves food
  • eating very little food
  • making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
  • exercising too much
  • having very strict habits or routines around food
  • changes in your mood

You may also notice physical signs, including:

  • feeling cold, tired or dizzy
  • problems with your digestion
  • your weight being very high or very low for someone of your age and height
  • not getting your period for women and girls

Warning signs of an eating disorder in someone else

It can often be very difficult to identify that a loved one or friend has developed an eating disorder.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • dramatic weight loss
  • lying about how much and when they've eaten, or how much they weigh
  • eating a lot of food very fast
  • going to the bathroom a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed
  • exercising too much
  • avoiding eating with others
  • cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

Getting help for an eating disorder

If you think you may have an eating disorder, even if you aren't sure, see your GP as soon as you can.

Your GP will ask you questions about your eating habits and how you're feeling. They'll also do a full health check.

If you have an eating disorder, your GP should refer you to an eating disorder specialist.

It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.

Getting help for someone else

It can be difficult to know what to do if you're concerned that someone you know has an eating disorder.

If you have an eating disorder, you might be secretive and defensive about your eating and weight.

Let them know you're worried about them and encourage them to see their GP. You could offer to go along with them.

Treatment for eating disorders

You can recover from an eating disorder, but it may take time. Recovery will be different for everyone.

The specialist will talk to you about any support you might need and include this in your treatment plan.

Treatment will be different depending on the type of eating disorder you have. It will usually involve some kind of talking therapy.

You may need regular health checks if it is having an impact on your physical health.

Guided self-help programmes have been effective with bulimia and binge eating.

Most people have one-to-one therapy but group therapy may also be an option.

What causes eating disorders?

We don't know exactly what causes eating disorders.

You may be more likely to get an eating disorder if:

  • you or a member of your family has a history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug addiction
  • you are criticised for your eating habits, body shape or weight
  • you are overly-concerned with being slim
  • you have anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality, or are a perfectionist
  • you have been sexually abused
  • you've been bullied

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
next review due: 23/09/2021

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