Eating disorders

 Content Editor

What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food which causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour.

A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health.

Types of eating disorders
Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. The most common eating disorders are: 
  • anorexia nervosa – when a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible; for example, by starving themselves or exercising excessively
  • bulimia nervosa – when a person goes through periods of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or uses laxatives (medication to help empty the bowels) to try to control their weight
  • binge eating disorder (BED) – when a person feels compelled to overeat large amounts of food in a short space of time
Some people, particularly those who are young, may be diagnosed with a condition called 'eating disorder not otherwise specified' (EDNOS). This means you have some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin, as young people in particular feel they should look a certain way. However, the causes are usually more complex.
An eating disorder may be associated with biological, genetic or environmental factors and is usually a combination of all these. Sometimes a stressful life event can trigger these illnesses but sometimes it can be difficult to identify one particular trigger. There may also be other factors that maintain the illness. The important thing to understand is that these are real illnesses. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify a specific trigger.

Risk factors which can increase the likelihood of a person having an eating disorder include:
  • having a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight
  • being overly concerned with being slim, particularly if combined with pressure to be slim from society or for a job – for example, ballet dancers, models or athletes
  • certain underlying characteristics – for example, having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone special
  • difficult relationships with family members or friends
  • stressful situations – for example, problems at work, school or university
How can we help you?
We provide services for adults with eating disorders in Adults eating disorder service - Knowsley and Adults eating disorder service - St Helens, and for children and young people age eight to 18 in Bolton servicesHalton servicesKnowsley servicesSt Helens servicesWarrington services and Wigan services.