What are they?

Eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (compulsive over-eating) are serious mental illnesses affecting 1.6 million people in the UK. They are most likely to develop during teenage years and although more girls are affected, around a quarter of those who experience an eating disorder at school age are boys.

What signs and symptoms
indicate an eating disorder?

A specialist will need to diagnose an eating disorder but some
signs include those listed in the tables below.

1. Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an illness where there is a clinically established weight loss, measured either using the Body Mass Index (BMI) or weight and height criteria. There is a relentless aim for weight loss, mainly through restricted eating; excessive exercise and other behaviours aimed at weight control may also occur.

  • 1. Physical
    • Feeling tired- finding it harder to do all the things you usually do and having low immunity.
    • In girls, absence of three or more consecutive periods.
    • Other physical effects such as low blood pressure; messing up your brain chemicals, affecting your fertility, thinning your bones, poor skin.
    • Loss of body weight
  • 2. Thoughts
    • Obsessive thoughts; not being able to switch off from thinking about food and weight.
    • Difficulty concentrating and memory lapses.
    • Low self esteem.
    • Thinking and feeling fat.
  • 3. Behaviours
    • All efforts are completely focused on maintaining low weight.
    • Avoiding social situations especially if food is involved.
    • Obsessive behaviour such as being stuck in a variety of routines, constant checking (these may include frequent checking of weight, other food- related checking or routines around cleanliness)
    • Perfectionism and very high standards.
  • 4. Feelings
    • Feeling alone and trapped by the condition.
    • Mood swings.
    • Increased irritability.
    • Increased anxiety and / or depression.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a condition where there is a relentless pursuit of thinness, which includes periods of starvation mixed by periods of binge eating. The person thinks and feels fat. A number of behaviours are carried out to lose weight and these may include vomiting, the use of laxatives or diuretics and excessive exercise.

  • 1. Physical
    • Variable body weight.
    • Sore throat & stomach pains.
    • Swollen face and dental problems.
    • Sleep problems.
  • 2. Thoughts
    • Constant thoughts around food.
    • Body dissatisfaction.
    • Difficulty concentrating.
    • Low self esteem.
  • 3. Behaviours
    • Bingeing.
    • Getting rid of food in different ways.
    • Secretive shopping and eating behaviour.
    • Avoidance of social situations especially if food is involved.
  • 4. Feelings
    • Depression.
    • Shame.
    • Anxiety.
    • Irritability and anger

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is a condition where the person regularly binges, usually with weight gain. This can lead to obesity, which is measured using the BMI.

  • 1. Physical
    • Weight gain.
    • Risk of ill health, e.g. higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
    • Fertility affected.
    • Bones affected.
  • 2. Thoughts
    • Over focus on body shape.
    • Low self esteem.
    • Body dissatisfaction.
    • Difficulty concentrating.
  • 3. Behaviours
    • Bingeing.
    • Restricted in what physical activities you can do.
    • Avoiding social situations.
    • Secrecy around eating activities.
  • 4. Feelings
    • Shame.
    • Depression.
    • Helplessness.
    • Anger at self.

4. Other Eating Related Disorders

There are also other forms of disordered eating. Although these are not formally categorised as Eating Disorders, they are worth managing early in order to prevent them from developing into full-blown eating disorders.

  • Food Phobias
    • These include fear and avoidance of certain groups of food either due to bad association with food/eating or due to a fear of vomiting.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
    • In this condition, there is an obsessive and distorted focus on how a part or the whole body is viewed.
  • Exercise Addiction
    • This is when the need to exercise becomes compulsive or has no flexibility. There is a relentless pursuit of exercise, daily, whether tired or not. There is a fear of altering or reducing exercise. There is an increase in the number of repetitions of an exercise, eg. stomach curls; using the machines that burn the most amount of calories. There is a pattern of increasing physical activity due to increasing tolerance of effort.
    • Exercise addiction occurs in both boys and girls but may be more common in boys. Sometimes in boys, exercise addiction can lead to what has been termed ‘Bigorexia’ where, just as in Anorexia there is a relentless pursuit of thinness at all cost, in ‘Bigorexia’ there is a relentless pursuit of body building.
    • Obviously exercise in moderation is healthy, over-exercising can lead to many negative effects such as its effects on bones, potentially causing fractures. In women it can affect menstruation. It can also lead to irritability, anxiety and depression.