Lots of people worry about what they look like and from time to time and might be unhappy with their weight or shape. At different times people might eat more or less and this might be okay. For someone with an eating disorder thoughts and feelings can have a serious impact on their life.
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that involves a person developing thoughts, feelings and eating behaviours which take over and make them very unwell. It can impact on physical health and lead to things like feeling cold or dizzy. It might make concentrating at school or college harder. It can also get in the way of general daily living, such as spending time with friends or family and taking part in activities.
Eating disorders can involve not eating enough, eating and then making yourself sick, compulsive exercise, thinking about food and eating a lot of the time or a mix of these where someone might not eat and then eat too much.
There can be lots of reasons for young people developing difficulties in eating and it is worthwhile considering these before thinking that someone has an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. These can include physical illnesses which will need medical assessment first.
Sometimes people naturally have strong preferences about what they eat and how they eat it and this can lead to less variety in what these people eat. At other times someone may have another mental health problem like low mood which may be resulting in difficulties with eating and need treatment.
There is no one cause of an eating disorder. People can develop them as way to cope with feelings of sadness, worry and stress. Sometimes life stressors such as exams, bullying, friendship or family relationship difficulties and bereavement or loss may play a part in how someone copes or feels about themselves.
There are also some personal factors such as having low self-esteem, experiencing anxiety or depression, setting high standards and being perfectionistic. It can be that people identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual) have more body image concerns. Boys get eating disorders as well as girls, but these are sometimes not noticed. However, experiencing any one of these things does not necessarily mean that someone will develop an eating disorder or difficulty.
All eating disorders are treatable and recovery is possible.