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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.

What are the causes of eating 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.

How do you treat an eating disorder?

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.


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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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