Eating Disorders, Signs and Symptoms – Eating Disorder Awareness Week

An eating disorder is a mental illness where an individual has an unhealthy attitude toward food and how they feel they look. They will become compulsive about their eating habits and will be consumed with their weight and how much they weigh.

Although many assume eating disorders to be focused on those who want to be as thin as possible, on the contrary, eating disorders can involve eating too much or too little. Triggers can be a coping mechanism or as a way to gain a sense of control.

I experienced a disorder from 2013 to 2014. It was a weird, unsettling and upsetting time of my life. My unhealthy attitude towards food came from wanting to a sense of control which I had felt I’d lost. I wanted to write this post toward to present the facts about Eating Disorders. Speak their names, discuss their signs and symptoms and discuss where to go to get help.


As part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I want to stress the point that eating disorders are unbiased in their beholders. Men and women of any age can develop a disorder. I appreciate some of this may be a tough read, but please, if you feel like in yourself or a loved one may be experiencing any one of the below disorders, use the support options at the end of this post.

Firstly, the main categories of eating disorders are;

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa presents one overwhelming fear; the fear of putting on weight. People who have Anorexia will attempt to keep their weight as low as possible by using several tactics including purging after eating, punishing themselves by exercising compulsively or starving themselves by missing entire meals. The use of laxatives is also common. As someone who has experienced this particular disorder, I would say that the majority of my day was spent thinking about my body, food products and inventive ways I could restrict my diet or lose weight.

The main sign of Anorexia is dramatic and visible weight loss. Others include dry and translucent skin, dry scalp, bones that are pronounced and visible such as the collar bones, chest bones and ribs.

Unusual food habits such as missing meals, eating incredibly small amounts or going to the extreme of avoiding an entire food group if they see it as high in calories or likely to cause weight gain is also a symptom. Similarly, an individual may start to engage in excessive and punishing exercise regimes that are unmaintainable and exhausting, but completed by the individual as they know it will help them lose weight.

Anorexia is a secretive disorder. Whether it is hiding the last time they ate, hiding how much weight they have lost or physically hiding food, they do not want other people to know what they are doing or have someone uncover their struggle.

This feeling of secrecy is often compounded by the isolation one feels when experiencing Anorexia.  An individual will have a sole preoccupation with food from planning how to hide their symptoms to considering purging their most recent meal.

Such is the extent of the body image distortion within Anorexia, that individuals are unable to fully comprehend the dramatic weight loss they are experiencing, leading them to continue to starve, purge or exercise to lose more.

Bulimia Nervosa

An individual who suffers from Bulimia will go through periods of ‘binge eating’, where they will consume a vast amount of food in a very short space of time and will then ‘purge’ themselves by making themselves vomit, using laxatives or diuretics or carry out an excessive and punishing exercise regime with the overall aim to stop weight gain. It is very probable that a bulimia sufferer will use a combination of these techniques to achieve complete calorie purge.

A binge-eating session should not be confused with a healthy individual who has a little more to eat from time to time as a treat or overindulgence.

When an individual goes on a binge-eating episode, they will often be left with an overwhelming feeling of worthlessness and shame.  They may also look to consume food products that they would usually avoid.

As with Anorexia, sufferers of Bulimia are overly critical about their weight, body image, body shape and may check their weight several times a day.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder will see somemone consume large amounts of food in a short space of time but do not purge the calories they have consumed. As with Bulimia, these binges should not be confused with a healthy individual who has a rare ‘overindulgence’. In fact, during a binge episode, an individual may find it hard to stop, even if they were feeling physical pain or discomfort; so much is the mental push to keep on eating.

Binges are often planned by an individual in a ritualistic and rapid fashion, even to the point that the individual may shop for binge foods, especially for the occasion. These episodes can be triggered by many psychological aspects of life including stress, sadness, loneliness or anger.

Individuals who have experienced BED may not show any visible weight gain. This is due to the fluctuation between binge eating then extreme, rigid dieting in which body weight balances out.

Finally, there is a widely discussed fourth eating disorder known as OSFED or ‘Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder’. According to the NHS, this is the most popular disorder as an individual may have hybrid symptoms which means they do not exactly match those of the three major eating disorders but still means an individual is dealing with a mental health problem that focuses of eating.


Available help options…

Whether through local GP practices or in the regions main hospitals, the NHS  provides the principal support structure and the majority of information about eating disorders in the United Kingdom.

Patients and their immediate family may wish to use the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). PALS offers confidential advice, support and information to those who are dealing with health-related issues. They can become the main form of contact and support for not only patients but their family, carers or friends.

This day in age, an individual who is struggling with abnormal eating habits or an eating disorder does not need to physically see someone to receive quality advice, information or support. There are many resources available online to offer support and guidance.

The UK Charity ‘Beat’ was founded in 1989 and was the first national charity for those with eating disorders. Mostly online based, Beat looks to offer guidance and support anyone affected by eating disorders so that an individual feels listened to, supported and empowered to make a change.  Beat receives no monetary funding from the UK government, but they run phone and email helplines every day of the year, to anyone that needs to utilise their services.

They offer an extensive array of support includes support rooms, chat rooms and one-on-one web chats where they are able to discuss their thoughts and feelings in a forum of like-minded people.

Their website supplies the signs, symptoms and behavioural indicators of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and OSFED. The section of the website ‘Do I have an Eating Disorder’ allows the reader to consider their own symptoms and what they can do next if they feel they match the criteria.

Furthermore, they offer short support articles for those who are perhaps in a family with someone who is experiencing eating difficulties. One such article named ’10 Helpful things to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder’ provides lines of reassurance to those who are struggling with verbalising their concern for their loved one.

On that note, many people either personally experiencing eating disorders or supporting friends or family have many questions. This could range from teacher worrying about a pupil to wondering whether males get eating disorders. The ‘Information’ section of the site allows all of those questions to be answered, even to the extent of providing book reviews and downloadable content that can be stored on devices at all times.

Finally, the website pages provided by the NHS are a fail-safe when researching and looking for support on eating disorders, mental health or any part of the nutritional sphere. The comprehensive medical advice provided is evidence and fact-based and can be relied on when symptom checking, answering questions or making decisions such as when it is right to visit a GP.

There are thousands of free, available resources on the NHS website, in a range of media including videos, tools and apps. Their service search allows the user to find and choose, support, social care and assistance services in England.

I hope this has been useful. If you take anything out of this post, just remember that there is help out there.

3 Replies to “Eating Disorders, Signs and Symptoms – Eating Disorder Awareness Week”

    1. It can be hard to discuss an eating Disorder with someone who you think is suffering. I know my parents didn’t really know what to say to me. Discussing what you are seeing and hearing from an individual and why you are concerned can help. I know that the website Beat has a whole section on their website dedicated to supporting that initial conversation

      Thanks x


    2. Oh gosh now you’re asking. That’s a huge question!
      1st I think they should take a good look at their relationship with the suspected sufferer – do you have a good & quality, trusting relationship with that person? I say this because if you look honestly at it & you don’t then you might need to consider who would be the most appropriate person to approach this with your loved one.

      If you feel that you are the best persin (or only person in some cases) then its about knowing that person & how best to approach the issue. Remember that there is a lot of shame involved in mental illness & you don’t want to be compounding this.

      Knowing the individual will be your way in – some will appreciate straight talk whilst others might prefer you to make them a cup of tea & leave leaflets around. Personally I think it is important to open things out as gently as you can – its likely to be difficult to acknowledge for the sufferer.

      Showing general concern ‘I’ve noticed that you aren’t going out as much / spend a lot of time at the supermarket / have lost weight / seem tired might also be a way in.
      I also don’t think its always needed to rush to the GP or get external help – options might be ideal but not necessarily a prescrbed pathway (unless there is some danger to life).


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