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Health and wellbeing

Eating disorders

An eating disorder is when a person has an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over their life and make them ill.

It can involve eating too much or too little, or becoming obsessed with weight and body shape. However, there are treatments that can help, and people can recover from an eating disorder.

Anyone can get an eating disorder, but they most commonly affect young women aged 13 to 17 years old.

Signs and symptoms

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. Anyone, no matter what their age, gender, or background, can develop one.

There’s no single cause and people might not have all symptoms for any one eating disorder.

Some common symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • spending a lot of time worrying about weight and body shape
  • avoiding socialising when food will be involved
  • eating very little food
  • deliberately being sick or taking laxatives after eating
  • exercising too much
  • having very strict habits or routines around food
  • changes in mood.

It’s important to remember that even if the symptoms don’t exactly match those for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, the person may still have an eating disorder.

Getting help

It can be difficult to know what to do if you’re concerned that you, or someone you know, has an eating disorder.

People with an eating disorder are often secretive and defensive about their eating and their weight, and may deny being unwell, but there is plenty of support available.

If you think that you, or someone you know, may have an eating disorder it is important to see your GP as soon as possible (even if you aren’t sure). It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and ask for help. It may make things easier for the person with the eating disorder if they have a family member, friend or loved one to support them at the appointment.

You can talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

Visit NHS Choices for further information and advice about eating disorders.

If you are concerned that a child is being abused please call

0345 155 1071

or email mash@devon.gov.uk.

If it’s an emergency call 999


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