Eating Disorders

Find out about the stigma that people face who suffer with an eating disorder.

 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.

Find out more information around eating disorders.

Eating disorders and stigma
Eating disorders are sadly surrounded by stigma and in some cases this stigma would have you believe that eating disorders are not serious illnesses and that only girls suffer. This is not the case eating disorders can affect anyone and these stereotypes are dangerous, stigma discourages people from seeking help, make it less likely for employers and, in some cases, healthcare professionals to take them seriously and also it makes them harder to be spotted by the sufferer or a loved one.

By their nature, eating disorders are secretive and stigmatised. We know how hard it can be to ask for treatment and it is even harder if a person doesn't meet the expectations of what a person with an eating disorder 'should' look like. This is wrong. It has to change.

Together, we need to break down the stigma to help people to understand that they are deserving of help and support no matter their eating disorder diagnosis, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age or background.

Eating disorders can affect people from all walks of life these can affect people of any age.
Worryingly, 1 in 3 people with eating disorders responded that they had experienced stigma or discrimination in the workplace, and more than 80% said that they didn't feel their employers were 'informed' about eating disorders or how to handle them.

This stigma and discrimination had a considerable impact on 40% of people's recovery, with many feeling they couldn't access the support they needed for their eating disorder at work. Surprisingly, 38% of respondents told Beat that they had used annual leave to attend medical appointments for their eating disorder.

'Stigma is by far one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of someone when they are experiencing a mental health problem'

This highlights just how much of an effect our attitudes and opinions about mental health problems can have. Stigma is by far one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of someone when they are experiencing a mental health problem as it impacts on their likelihood to seek help, their physical health, and has even been identified as one of the key reasons for attempted suicide.
Eating disorders in particular are highly stigmatised, with people commonly dismissing this serious condition as a fad, a ploy for attention, or simply normal behaviour.
In order for people with eating disorders to feel safe enough to disclose, they need understanding. They need empathy. They need society to realise it isn't a phase, it's not basic insecurity, and that their pain isn't trivial. They need public acceptance that eating disorders are a serious mental illness, and they need your support.