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29 October 2014

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You are in: Oxford > BBC Oxford > Factsheets > Eating Disorders Factsheet

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Eating Disorders Factsheet

2 out of 100 people will suffer from an eating disorder

2 out of 100 people will suffer from an eating disorder
Living with an eating disorder can be a lonely experience. For most people food is one of life’s greatest pleasures but for some, their feelings about food are not relaxed and places huge stress on their lives.

Eating disorders are a common problem, yet they often go unnoticed, undiagnosed or untreated.  Eating disorders are most common amongst teenage girls but they can affect men and women alike.

The causes are complex and not well understood:  Problems with food can begin when eating is used to cope with feelings of boredom, anxiety, anger or loneliness.

A range of factors can leave people feeling unable to cope:

• difficult family relationships,
• the death of someone special
• stress
• problems at work, school or university, and
• sexual or emotional abuse
• Low self esteem

There are various types of eating disorders including Anorexia Nervosa, Binge eating and Bulimia Nervosa are types of eating disorder.  They are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food and difficulty in controlling how much is eaten.


Anorexia Nervosa is a potentially life threatening eating disorder that plagues people who are obsessed with looking slim and dieting, leading to severe weight loss.  It is a condition that predominantly starts with teenagers but it is not uncommon amongst men, boys and middle aged men and women.

Symptoms of Anorexia
• Severe weight loss and having misconceptions about weight and body size
• Being obsessed with food and calories and with exercise
• Taking medication which suppresses hunger and making themselves vomit after meals
• Isolation, loss of friends
• Emotional, irritable behaviour and wanting to be in control

Treatment for Anorexia

There is not one particular cure or treatment.  Treatment is assessed based on each individual’s circumstances and needs.  The aims are to:
• Get back to a healthy weight
• Re-establish healthy eating patterns
• Treat any problems regarding mental or physical states
• Address beliefs concerning food and body image


People with binge eating disorder often eat unusually large amounts of food and feel out of control during the binges.  People with binge eating disorder may also:
• eat more quickly than usual during binge episodes
• eat until they are uncomfortably full
• eat when they are not hungry
• eat alone because of embarrassment
• feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

What causes Binge eating disorder?
No one knows for sure what causes binge eating disorder.  Researchers are looking at the following factors that may affect binge eating:
• Depression
• Dieting
• Coping skills
• Biology - Researchers are looking into how brain chemicals and metabolism (the way the body uses calories) affect binge eating disorder.  It also may be genetic as the disorder often occurs in several members of the same family.

Treatment for Binge eating disorder
With any eating disorder, people can get help through their family doctor, psychiatrists, dieticians or ideally from a specialized eating disorder unit.
Treatment includes self-help and psychological treatments such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy which can help people understand their condition and learn ways to change their behaviour.


Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder. A person with bulimia eats a lot of food in a short amount of time. This is called bingeing.  The person may fear gaining weight after a binge.  Bingeing can also cause feelings of shame and guilt. So, the person tries to "undo" the binge by getting rid of the food. This is called purging. Purging might be done by:
• making yourself throw up
• taking laxatives — pills or liquids that speed up the movement of food through your body and lead to a bowel movement
• exercising a lot
• eating very little or not at all

What causes Bulimia?
Bulimia is more than just a problem with food. A binge can be set off by dieting or stress or by anger.  Purging is how people with bulimia try to gain control and to ease stress and anxiety. There is no single known cause of bulimia. But these factors might play a role:
• Culture -  pressure to have the perfect body.
• Genetic – some eating disorders can run in families
• Stress and low self esteem/depression

Symptoms of Bulimia?
A person with bulimia may be thin, overweight, or normal weight. This makes it hard to know if someone has bulimia. But some symptoms are:
• Binge-eating large amounts of food
• Obsession with food and calories
• Vomiting and purging
• Disappearing to the lavatory after meals
• Low self esteem and feeling out of control

Recovering from an eating disorder can take a long time and it is important that the person wants to get better.  The support of family and friends is very valuable.  Specialist care can help to deal with underlying psychological causes and physical effects.  There are also support and self-help groups, and personal and telephone counselling services that can help.

Visit the BBC Health page for more information:
Contact : The Eating Disorders Association now using the name b-eat - Adult helpline – 0845 6341414

last updated: 07/05/2008 at 13:25
created: 11/03/2008

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