If you have a problem with food or your weight, you may have an eating disorder.

It starts taking over your life, and threatening your health and happiness

What is it?

An eating disorder is when we have a problem with food. And our weight.

You may think you're too fat, and as a result start restricting what you eat. You may think your life will be better if you lost weight.

Most of us feel this way at some time or other, but it can get out of control. You may start to obsess over every calorie, every bit of exercise, a kilo gained can ruin your day. It starts taking over your life, and threatening your health and happiness - that's when it's developed into something more serious.

The three most common types of eating disorder

Eating disorders can manifest themselves in different guises....

Anorexia Nervosa

This involves starving the body or taking measures to keep weight as low as possible. It's an extremely miserable existence, and side effects include:

  • Hair loss
  • Thinning/weakening of the bones
  • Brittle nails
  • Downy hair on the arms or neck

Bulimia Nervosa

This is when someone is trapped in a cycle of binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives to get rid of the food they've eaten. In addition to the side effects of anorexia, teeth may start to rot and vision can become affected.

Compulsive Eating

Like bulimia sufferers, compulsive eaters gorge on excessive quantities of food, even when they're not hungry. However, they do not purge themselves.

People with eating disorders can become so ill they end up in hospital. Some find they can't have babies when they're older. And occasionally, people die.

This is why you shouldn't ignore any worries you have about yourself or your friends.

Why do people get eating disorders?

Some people are just naturally more prone to eating problems, others develop a mixed-up attitude to food as they get older.

Stress or bad experiences can also make us more likely to suffer.

If someone in our family is funny about food, we're more likely to be too.

Often we begin by dieting to lose weight. Then we feel better about ourselves. We feel in control, and better looking, so we keep going. We may find it difficult to stop, even if we know we're harming ourselves.

I think I've got an eating disorder...

Ask yourself whether you:

  • Feel guilty when eating certain foods.
  • Sneak food or eat large amounts on the spur of the moment
  • Prefer not to eat in front of other people
  • Stop going to fun events because there might be fattening foods
  • Weigh yourself a lot and feel fat even though you're smaller than other people
  • Often count calories and/or fat grams and worry about what you'll eat next
  • Try not to eat for a while, and then overeat and feel guilty
  • Make yourself vomit, use laxatives, or over-exercise

If you said yes to any of the above, talk to someone you trust and see your GP. Don't waste any time. The sooner you start getting proper help, the better your chances are of beating it. Don't spend another day being miserable about food - there's so much more to life.

Get more help and advice

Beat: Understanding eating disorders

Young Minds: Eating Disorders

NHS: Eating Disorders

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.