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What Happens When You Have Eating Disorder

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What Should I Do If I Think I Have An Eating Disorder

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People with an eating disorder may feel it helps them stay in control of their life. However, as time goes on, the eating disorder can start to control them. If you have an eating disorder, you may also have the urge to harm yourself or misuse alcohol or drugs.

Talk to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member if you think you have an eating disorder. You can also call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline . You can also call the Butterfly Foundation for advice if you’re concerned about a family member or friend.

Your doctor can advise you on diagnosis and possible treatment options, which will depend on your individual circumstances and the type of eating disorder you have.

National Association Of Anorexia Nervosa And Associated Disorders: 1

Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates MondayFriday from 9 a.m.5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who need help getting through a meal, and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.

How To Know If You Struggle With Body Image Issues That You Manage Through Food

Its common that people who struggle with body image issues tie their emotions and sense of self-worth to their weight, as well as to eating. People with eating disorders tend to associate food and fullness with shame or guilt, and they often associate purging, restricting, and hunger with self-control or virtue. This mindset can lead to excessive dieting, restriction, and/or bingeing: behaviors that often precede or cause an eating disorder.

Body image issues are all too common. By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape, and 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are worried about gaining weight. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

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Warning Signs Of An Eating Disorder In Someone Else

It can often be very difficult to identify that a loved one or friend has developed an eating disorder.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • dramatic weight loss
  • lying about how much and when they’ve eaten, or how much they weigh
  • eating a lot of food very fast
  • going to the bathroom a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed
  • exercising too much
  • cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

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Her problems started when she was about 12. Thats when she began cutting calories severely. It left her hungry. All of the time. But she saw an upside to her struggles. By taking such strict control of her body she gained self-confidence. So she ate little and began deliberately purging . In time, these behaviors became familiar and even comforting.

But Woodwards body eventually became severely and dangerously underweight. This worried her family. During her teen years, they left bathroom scales around the house. They also encouraged the girl to eat more. None, however, thought she needed medical help.

People just thought that I was choosing to be skinny, the young woman recalls. They assumed that fixing the problem would be as easy as reminding her to eat. In fact, Woodward explains, Its not like that at all.

The turning point came in 2012, when Woodward was 19. She was in the bathroom, vomiting after a meal. Her partners mother overheard her and confronted Woodward. Only then did the teen seek help. Doctors diagnosed her as having anorexia nervosa with purging behavior. That, she says, opened my eyes to the fact that Ive had an eating disorder for a long time.

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Information For Carers Friends And Relatives

If you are a carer, friend or relative of someone who hears voices, you can get support.

How can I get support?

You can do the following.

  • Speak to your GP about medication and talking therapies for yourself.
  • Speak to your relatives care team about a carers assessment.
  • Ask for a carers assessment from your local social services.
  • Join a carers service. They are free and available in most areas.
  • Join a carers support group for emotional and practical support. Or set up your own.

What is a carers assessment?A carers assessment is an assessment of the support that you need so that you can continue in your caring role.

To get a carers assessment you need to contact your local authority.

How do I get support from my peers?You can get peer support through carer support services or carers groups. You can search for local groups in your area by using a search engine such as Google. Or you can contact the Rethink Mental Illness Advice Service and we will search for you.

How can I support the person I care for?

You can do the following.

  • Read information about eating disorders.
  • Ask the person you support to tell you what their symptoms are and if they have any self-management techniques that you could help them with.
  • Encourage them to see a GP if you are worried about their mental health.
  • Ask to see a copy of their care plan, if they have one. They should have a care plan if they are supported by a care coordinator.
  • Help them to manage their finances.

You can find out more about:

How To Treat Eating Disorders

Due to the insidious ways in which eating disorders pervade all aspects of ones body, mind, and life, receiving the appropriate treatment is important. There are various levels of care designed to treat specific stages of eating disorder severitythese range from inpatient at a medical facility down to outpatient. Any eating disorder treatment center can assess a struggling individual to determine the appropriate level of care.

Outside of receiving treatment in general, it is also important to ensure the facility uses evidence-based practices, as these can lead to better long-term outcomes.

There are many evidence-based treatments that can support eating disorder recovery the most well-known and most commonly used is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , Dialectical Behavior Therapy , and Family-Based Treatment .

Do not be afraid to ask any questions that arise if you or a loved one are searching for the treatment that will best support recovery.

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What Are The Causes Of Eating Disorders

There is no single cause of an eating disorder. Most health professionals think there are several factors that contribute to eating disorders. This includes:

Characteristics of people

Research has shown there are particular character traits that can increase the risk of having an eating disorder. These include:

  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviours.
  • Leaving home or moving to a new place.

Physical and Mental Health problems

Having issues that are either mental or physical can cause an individual to spiral towards developing a disorder related to the consumption of food, as a way to feel more in control.

How Does Anorexia Develop

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As with other eating disorders, there is no single known cause, but many factors play into the development of anorexia. How does anorexia start? Its not totally clear but your risk increases if you have a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with an eating disorder. Obsessive-compulsive personality traits, such as perfectionism and sensitivity, are usually associated with anorexia.

Genetics appear to play a major role, though researchers are just beginning to figure out which genes are involved and what type of changes to those genes put people at higher risk of developing anorexia. Genetic scientists have pinpointed genes linking anorexia to depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers have also discovered that certain metabolism genes linked to fat burning, physical activity, and resistance to type 2 diabetes appear to combine with those genes linked to psychiatric conditions, and that combination appears to increase the risk of developing anorexia.

While interesting, these discoveries are really just a drop in the research bucket, since there are likely to be hundreds of thousands of genes involved in the development of anorexia, just as there are in the development of so many other diseases and disorders.

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How Is Anorexia Diagnosed

Identifying anorexia can be challenging. Secrecy, shame, and denial are characteristics of the disorder. As a result, the illness can go undetected for long periods of time.

If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose anorexia, the doctor might use various diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, to rule out physical illness as the cause of the weight loss, as well as to evaluate the effects of the weight loss on the body’s organs.

If no physical illness is found, the person might be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists may use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an eating disorder.

What If I Am Not Happy With My Treatment

If you are not happy with your treatment you can:

  • talk to your doctor about your treatment and ask for a second opinion,
  • get an advocate to help you speak to your doctor,
  • contact Patient Advice and Liaison Service and see whether they can help, or
  • make a complaint.

There is more information about these options below:

Second opinion

If you are not happy with your treatment you should talk to your doctor and see if you can resolve the situation with them. You can refer to the NICE guidelines if you feel your doctor is not offering you the right treatment. See below for more about this.

You may feel that your treatment should be changed. If your doctor does not agree you could ask for a second opinion. You are not legally entitled to a second opinion, but your doctor might agree to it if it would help with treatment options.


An advocate is independent from the NHS. This means that the NHS doesnt employ them. Advocacy services are free to use. Usually a charity will run an advocacy service. An advocate is there to support you.

They can help to make your voice heard when you are trying to sort problems. They may be able to help you to write a letter to the NHS or go to a meeting with you.

There may be a local advocacy service in your area which you can contact for support. You can search online for a local service. You can also call our advice service on 0300 5000 927 or email us at and we can look for you.

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Understanding Your Loved Ones Eating Disorder

Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviorsfollowing rigid diets, bingeing on food in secret, throwing up after meals, obsessively counting calories. Its not easy to watch someone you care about damage their healthespecially when the solution appears, at least on the outside, to be simple. But eating disorders are more complicated than just unhealthy dietary habits. At their core, theyre attempts to deal with emotional issues and involve distorted, self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Its these negative thoughts and feelings that fuel the damaging behaviors.

People with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Restricting food is used to feel in control. Overeating temporarily soothes sadness, anger, or loneliness. Purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing. Over time, people with an eating disorder lose the ability to see themselves objectively and obsessions over food and weight come to dominate everything else in their lives. Their road to recovery begins by identifying the underlying issues that drive their eating disorder and finding healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.

While you cant force a person with an eating disorder to change, you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference to your loved ones recovery.

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Other Eating Disorders And Eating Problems

What Happens to Your Body When You Have an Eating Disorder?

Other specified feeding and eating disorder

OFSED means you have symptoms of an eating disorder, but you dont have all the typical symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or BED. You may have a mixture of symptoms from different eating disorders. This doesnt mean that your illness is less serious.

Emotional overeating

You turn to food when you have negative feelings if you are an emotional overeater. These can be feelings like anxiety or sadness. Eating food may help you to feel comforted.

Lots of people use food to help manage feelings, this is normal. But it may become a problem if this is the only management technique that you have, or you are beginning to feel out of control. Emotional overeating can cause feelings of guilt and shame.


With pica, you eat non-food objects such as chalk, paint, stones and clothing. There is no nutritional benefit from eating these items and some can be harmful. Pica can lead to further health concerns such as dental and stomach problems.

Rumination disorder

You will chew and spit out food without swallowing it if you have rumination disorder. You may do this repeatedly.

Selective eating disorder

You will only eat certain foods and may refuse to try other foods if you have SED. This is common in young children. But the problem can continue into adulthood.

Orthorexia nervosa

In this section

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How Do You Know If You Have An Eating Disorder

Be alert for eating patterns and beliefs that may signal unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that may trigger eating disorders. Red flags that may indicate an eating disorder include: Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating Adopting an overly restrictive vegetarian diet Excessive focus on healthy eating

What Is An Eating Disorder

An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis based on your eating patterns. It involves medical tests on your weight, blood and body mass index .

An eating problem means any relationship with food that you find difficult. Not every eating problem will be diagnosed as a disorder.

Eating disorders are a diagnosed type of eating problem.

Diagnosing an eating disorder

Food is one of the many mediums through which our emotions and distress can be expressed.

Understanding feelings and behaviours linked to certain eating disorders can be helpful. This is true even if you don’t have a diagnosis. Or, if you prefer to consider your experiences in a non-medical way.

There can be complications in getting a formal diagnosis:

  • If your problems with eating aren’t easy for your doctor to categorise, they might not give you a diagnosis.
  • You may have a very difficult relationship with food which affects your mental health, but doesn’t fit into any current diagnoses.
  • You may be experiencing more than one eating disorder, or symptoms from multiple disorders.

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An Unhealthy Relationship With Your Body

Another common eating problem, particularly for women, is an unhealthy relationship with your body. While the relationship is with the body, it manifests itself as an eating problem.

This may take one or all of the following forms:

  • Valuing body weight and/or appearance as the most important aspect of self-worth
  • Difficulty interpreting the body’s internal signals
  • A distorted view of own body
  • Feeling very dissatisfied and/or unhappy with physical appearance
  • Preoccupied with physical appearance to the degree it interferes with other important aspects of life

What Are The Recent Developments In Research For Eating Disorders

The Eating Disorder Brain vs. The Well Brain | Effects of the Starving Brain and Eating Disorders

Understanding the role of appetite in the development of eating disordersDr Clare Llewellyn and her team are looking at two factors – appetite and parental feeding strategies that may be vital to understanding the development of eating disorders. By using analysis from twins where mental health, genetic, and other potential factors have been tracked from birth through to teen years, she aims to explore how appetite and parents feeding practices impact eating habits in adolescence. This could predict who may be at risk of developing behaviours that are associated with eating disorders. Find out more.

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Dealing With Eating Disorders In The Home

As a parent, there are many things you can do to support your childs eating disorder recoveryeven if they are still resisting treatment.

Set a positive example. You have more influence than you think. Instead of dieting, eat nutritious, balanced meals. Be mindful about how you talk about your body and your eating. Avoid self-critical remarks or negative comments about others appearance. Instead, focus on the qualities on the inside that really make a person attractive.

Make mealtimes fun. Try to eat together as a family as often as possible. Even if your child isnt willing to eat the food youve prepared, encourage them to join you at the table. Use this time together to enjoy each others company, rather than talking about problems. Meals are also a good opportunity to show your child that food is something to be enjoyed rather than feared.

Avoid power struggles over food. Attempts to force your child to eat will only cause conflict and bad feelings and likely lead to more secrecy and lying. That doesnt mean you cant set limits or hold your child accountable for their behavior. But dont act like the food police, constantly monitoring your childs behavior.

Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem. in your child in intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.

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