As this week is eating disorders awareness week here is a guide to eating disorders and places to find support and information.

General Introduction

There are many misconceptions about eating disorders particularly in reference to gender stereotyping and why people have eating disorders. An eating disorder is a type of mental illness. You have probably heard of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating but according to Beat “many people are diagnosed with other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).” In other words something that may differ from the symptoms of the more common eating disorders. Additionally, Beat also makes it clear that a ‘person’s symptoms and diagnosis may change over time.’

Why do people have eating disorders?

There is no one single cause for eating disorders as they are complex mental illnesses. However, they can be a way for someone to try to manage or control their feelings. Eating disorders may stem from low self esteem or body dysmorphic disorder.

The NHS has a list of some reasons why a person may be more likely to have an eating disorder:

  • “you or a member of your family has a history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug addiction
  • you have been criticised for your eating habits, body shape or weight
  • you’re overly concerned with being slim, particularly if you also feel pressure from society or your job – for example, ballet dancers, jockeys, models or athletes
  • you have anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality, or are a perfectionist
  • you have been sexually abused”

It is also important to note that eating disorders are not specific to factors such as gender. For example, there is a common misconception that women are only really affected by eating disorders. This is simply not true, in fact, as Beat explains, “studies suggest around a quarter of people with eating disorders are male.”

Signs to look for

There is a comprehensive list on Beat so I’ve just picked out some key ones to look for.

Behavioral signs


  • Hiding and lying about food and skipping meals
  • Eating very quickly or very slowly, cutting up food in to small pieces
  • Counting calories excessively
  • Often rushing to the bathroom after eating


  • Obsessively or excessively exercising
  • Feeling guilty when not exercising


  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Isolating themselves from others
  • Avoiding eating with others

Psychological signs

  • Low self esteem
  • Other mental illnesses such as OCD and depression
  • Anxiety (particularly centered on food, appearance and or exercise)
  • Body dysmorphism Disorder (a distorted image of their body)
  • Difficulty concentrating

Physical signs

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty sleeping, physical weakness and tiredness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor skin condition
  • Damage to teeth


Support in schools

Teaching pupils about healthy lifestyles is so important including information about mental health issues.

Pupils should know:

  • Why the body needs food, what food does to the body, and how to eat a balanced diet
  • Why we need exercise, what it does to our body, and how much exercise we need
  • About different mental illnesses as well as how to look after your own mental health and support others who need it
  • That appearance is only one small part of a person, it doesn’t define them, and no one needs to look a particular way
  • How their words and actions can impact on others

If you or someone close to you is suffering from an eating disorder please check out the links below for information and support.

Support and further information




Anorexia and Bulimia Care