What are eating disorders

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. People with eating disorders use disordered eating behaviour as a way to cope with difficult situations or feelings. This behaviour can include limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means (e.g. making themselves sick, misusing laxatives, fasting, or excessive exercise), or a combination of these behaviours.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders are not all about food itself, but about feelings. The way the person treats food may make them feel more able to cope, or may make them feel in control, though they might not be aware of the purpose this behaviour is serving. An eating disorder is never the fault of the person experiencing it, and anyone who has an eating disorder deserves fast, compassionate support to help them get better.

So that healthcare professionals can choose the right kind of treatment for someone, there are a number of different eating disorders that someone can be diagnosed with. It’s possible for someone to move between diagnoses if their symptoms change – there is often a lot of overlap between different eating disorders.

Types of eating disorders include:

  • anorexia
  • ARFID
  • binge eating disorder
  • bulimia
  • OSFED

It’s common for people to be diagnosed with “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). This is not a less serious type of eating disorder – it just means that the person’s eating disorder doesn’t exactly match the list of symptoms a specialist will check to diagnose them with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders can be fatal, and they cause serious harm both physically and emotionally. But even though they are serious illnesses, eating disorders are treatable. We know at Beat from our daily contact with people affected that it is very possible to make a full recovery. Like any other illness, the sooner someone with an eating disorder is treated, the more likely recovery is. The most important thing is getting yourself or the person you’re supporting into treatment as quickly as possible. We’ve put together a leaflet, available from our downloadable resources, to help you out with getting a referral to a specialist when you visit the GP.

Beat is a fantastic organisation that specialises in eating disorders. Please take a look at their website for more information and support www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/