Eating Disorders


Eating disorders usually develop as outward signs of inner emotional or psychological distress or problems. Women aged between 15 and 25 are most likely to suffer, though the problems can persist recurrently throughout life as a coping mechanism. Men are less likely to develop eating disorders, as are older people, but ChildLine in the UK regularly receives calls from children as young as 10 or 11 who are affected.

The main Eating Disorders are:


There are various different theories on why people succomb to eating disorders, including the obvious fact that we are bombarded with an unrealistic image of how we should appear in the media, and told that unless we conform to this image, we are not likeable, desirable, etc. By far the preferred and possibly main reason for developing eating disorders though, is that, as stated above, they develop as an outward sign of inner emotional or psychological distress or problems. Basically it would appear that where a person is or feels out of control of their environment or life, maybe due to family break-up' the loss of a loved one or bullying at school or work, they will turn to controlling their food in and output, as something which they can have control over. Almost invariably sufferers of eating disorders also have very low self-worth.

Hence an eating disorder - while being a problem in itself - will mainly be a symptom of a more serious deeper underlying problem, which needs to be found and addressed in an understanding and compassionate manner. Pointing out that our bodies are the 'temple of the Lord' and that we are abusing them by having this physically damaging eating disorder, will only further increase the feelings of failure and guilt which the sufferer already experiences. Rather it should be recognised as a cry for help, a cry that the sufferer is feeling out of control, unsafe or unvalued.


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervose is characterised by an intense and irrational fear of body fat and weight gain even when decidedly underweight, a relentless determination to become thinner and thinner, and a misperception of body weight and shape to the extent of feeling or perceiving oneself as fat even when skin and bones.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • refusal to maintain normal body weight for age and height
  • weight at 85% or less than expected for age and height
  • intense fear of weight gain
  • distorted body image
  • in women, loss of three consecutive menstrual periods
  • denial of the dangers of low weight

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is characterized by self-perpetuating and self-defeating cycles of binge-eating and purging. A person binges by rapidly consuming a large amount of food (or what s/he perceives to be a large amount) in a discrete period of time and in an automatic and helpless manner. This may anesthetize hunger, anger, sadness, and other feelings, but also creates physical discomfort and anxiety about weight gain. The binge is then followed by attempts to rid the body of the food that was consumed, by engaging in self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, excessive exercise, skipping meals, or dieting. All these purging behaviours are harmful and unproductive.

Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • repeated episodes of bingeing and purging
  • feeling out of control while eating
  • purging after a binge (vomiting, using laxatives, diet pills, exercise, meal skipping, or diuretics to rid body of food)
  • frequent dieting
  • belief that self-worth requires being thin, and extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • person may shoplift or abuse alcohol, drugs, credit cards, sex
  • weight may be "normal"

Binge Eating Disorder

Individuals with binge eating disorder (BED) binge eat but do not regularly use compensatory weight control behaviours such as vomiting, fasting, over-exercise, or abuse of laxatives. The person with BED is often genetically predisposed to weigh more than the "average" person, let alone the unrealistic cultural ideal. Due to culturally-reinforced body dissatisfaction, the person diets, making her or himself hungry, and then binges in response to that hunger. The person may also eat for emotional reasons: to comfort themselves, avoid uncomfortable situations, and numb feelings. Feelings of shame and embarrassment are prominent in BED. Diet programmes are not the answer to BED and often make matters worse.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • eating frequently and in large quantities
  • feeling out of control and unable to stop eating
  • may eat rapidly or secretly
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • feeling guilty and ashamed of binge eating
  • may have a history of diet failures
  • may be obese (about one-fifth of obese persons engage in binge eating)


For further information on Eating Disorders, please check out the following links:

ANRED - Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc - a large, informative site covering most aspects of eating disorders.


This page was last updated January 2004