What are eating difficulties?
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that involves a person developing thoughts, feelings and eating behaviour which can take over a person’s life and make them very unwell. Eating disorders can involve 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. It can impact on physical health, education and general daily living, such as hanging out with friends, spending time with 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. Sometimes life stressors such as exams, bullying, friendship or family relationship difficulties and bereavement or loss may play a part in how someone copes or feels about themselves. There are also some personal factors such as having low self-esteem, experiencing anxiety or depression, setting high standards and being perfectionistic and identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual) are sometimes 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. It is important to notice that you might be having a difficulty and ask for help and advice as soon as possible. Health services take eating disorders very seriously and they will make sure that you are seen soon as possible.
Here are some signs that there might be a problem and it’s time to get help;
• 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)
• If you’re a girl, your periods might stop
• Other people might start noticing and commenting that they are worried about you
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.
Helpful to know
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 for your difficulties, the better the outcome.
More information on Eating disorders and great resources can be found at both:
Beat offers a non-judgemental space to share feelings and thoughts around eating disorders. They can also provide information or support to explore options for help. The helpline and web chat is available 9am–8pm on weekdays and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays.
The Young Minds website has guides to the signs and symptoms of eating problems and eating disorders, and where to find help..
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