23 March 2021


You may think that your eating patterns are normal. But! Don’t be so sure. It might not. There is no single cause of eating disorders. Body dissatisfaction, dieting, and depression are common risk factors for the onset of an eating disorder. Eating disorders can be overcome with professional help and support from family and peers.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They can affect people of all age groups, genders, backgrounds and cultures. The number of people with eating disorders is increasing. We understand more about eating disorders now than ever before. Yet, many people live with these disorders for a long time without a clinical diagnosis or treatment.

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A.Symptoms of eating disorders

There are some warning signs that are common to people with eating disorders. These may include:

  1. weight loss, weight gain or weight fluctuation – usually due to dieting, but sometimes from an illness or stressful situation
  2. reoccupation with body appearance or weight
  3. sensitivity to cold
  4. faintness, dizziness and fatigue
  5. increased mood changes and irritability
  6. social withdrawal
  7. anxiety or depression
  8. inability to think rationally or concentrate
  9. increased interest in preparing food for others
  10. obsessive rituals, such as only drinking out of a certain cup
  11. eating in secret
  12. wearing baggy clothes or changes in clothing style
  13. excessive or fluctuating exercise patterns
  14. avoidance of social situations involving food
  15. frequent excuses not to eat
  16. the disappearance of large amounts of food from the refrigerator or pantry
  17. trips to the bathroom after meals
  18. constant and excessive dieting

B.Types of eating disorders

The main types of an eating disorder include:

  1. anorexia nervosa – characterised by restricted eating, weight loss, and fear of gaining weight
  2. bulimia nervosa – periods of binge eating (often in secret), followed by attempts to compensate with excessive exercise, vomiting, or periods of strict dieting. Binge eating is often accompanied by feelings of shame and being 'out of control'
  3. binge eating disorder – characterised by recurrent periods of binge eating. Binge eating can include:
  4. eating much more than usual
  5. eating until uncomfortably full
  6. eating large amounts when not feeling hungry.
  7. Feelings of guilt, disgust and depression can follow binge eating episodes. Binge eating does not involve compensatory behaviours, such as bulimia nervosa
  8. other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – feeding or eating behaviours that cause the individual distress and impairment, but do not meet the criteria for the first three eating disorders.

C.Causes of eating disorders

Social factors. Contributing social factors may include:

  1. media and other presentations of the 'ideal' body shape as lean and fit
  2. the pressure to achieve and succeed
  3. peer pressure to be or behave in a certain way
  4. a cultural tendency to judge people by their appearance
  5. occupations or activities that emphasise a particular body shape and size – for example, ballet, modelling, gymnastics and elite sports.

Major life changes or events may also contribute to the onset of an eating disorder, including:

  1. relationship breakdowns
  2. pregnancy and childbirth
  3. the death of a loved one.

Eating disorders can also be triggered by the accumulation of many minor stressors such as:

  1. fear of the responsibilities of adulthood
  2. a belief that love is dependent on high achievement
  3. poor communication between family members.

Biological factors. Contributing biological factors may include:

  1. adolescence and its associated physical changes
  2. genetic or familial factors – for example, families that are overly focused on food, weight, shape and appearance.

Psychological factors. Contributing psychological factors may include:

  1. low self-esteem
  2. negative body image
  3. perfectionism
  4. depression
  5. anxiety
  6. impulsivity
  7. obsessive thinking
  8. difficulties expressing emotions.

D.If you think you have an eating disorder

Many people have problems with their eating. If you do have an eating disorder, it is important to seek help. Remember that with support from health professionals, eating disorders can be recovered.

Getting professional help and support from others is important. Recovery may be slow as you learn to approach food in a more positive way and understand the reasons for your behaviour, but the effort will be worthwhile.

E.Family and friends of someone with an eating disorder

Parents, siblings, partners, friends, extended family, work colleagues and others often experience many different feelings as they learn to cope with the effects of an eating disorder on the person, and on their own lives. The strain of living with an eating disorder can create tensions and divisions within a family. There may be feelings of confusion, grief, anger, guilt and fear.

Family and friends can remind their loved ones that the effort associated with recovery will be worthwhile for everyone. The most important thing is to show love, care and faith in the person, and seek advice at the earliest possible time.

F.Treatment and recovery for people with eating disorders

Many different forms of therapy are available. It is important to remember that different approaches work for different people. Finding the right approach and early intervention maximises prospects of recovery. Professional help and support from others are important.

Because eating disorders affect people physically and mentally, a range of health professionals might be involved in treatment, including:

  1. psychiatrists
  2. psychologists
  3. dietitians
  4. social workers

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