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Eating disorders

  • 725,000 people are affected by eating disorders each year in the UK
  • 1 in 5 females aged 16–24 has an eating disorder
  • Womenare more than twice as likely to have an eating disorder than men

What are eating disorders? 

An eating disorder is when a person’s eating habits and relationship with food becomes difficult. Eating problems can disrupt how a person eats food and absorbs nutrients, which affects physical health, but can also be detrimental both emotionally and socially.

The three most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa (restricted food intake and/or excessive exercise)
  • Bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by deliberate purging)
  • Binge-eating disorder (BED) (episodes of overeating in a short space of time)

Eating disorders often occur alongside other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance misuse disorders.

There is no single reason why someone may develop an eating disorder - it can be the result of a combination of genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological factors. While they can be very serious mental health conditions they are also treatable and, although it may take a long time, full recovery is possible.

Treatment normally consists of monitoring a person’s physical health while addressing the underlying psychological problems with psychological therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or family therapy. Medication such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to treat bulimia nervosa or binge eating.

Need help?

Get information and advice on eating disorders at NHS Choices. If you're having a mental health emergency find out who to turn to using our urgent help and advice resource.

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