Eating disorders

Worries about weight, shape and eating are common, especially among teenage girls. Being very overweight or obese can cause a lot of problems, particularly with health. Quite often, someone who is overweight can lose weight simply by eating more healthily. It sounds easy, but they may need help to find a way of doing this.

A lot of young people, many of whom are not overweight in the first place, want to be thinner. They often try to lose weight by dieting or skipping meals. For some, worries about weight become an obsession. This can turn into a serious eating disorder. The information is this section focuses on the most common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

  • Someone with anorexia nervosa worries all the time about being fat (even if they are skinny) and eats very little. They lose a lot of weight and for girls, their periods stop.
  • Someone with bulimia nervosa also worries a lot about weight. They alternate between eating next to nothing, and then having binges when they gorge themselves. They vomit or take laxatives to control their weight.

What are the signs of anorexia or bulimia?

Both of these eating disorders are more common in girls, but do occur in boys.

  • Weight loss or unusual weight changes
  • For girls, their periods become irregular or stop
  • Missing meals, eating very little and avoiding `fattening' foods
  • Avoiding eating in public, secret eating
  • Large amounts of food disappearing from the cupboards
  • Believing they are fat when underweight
  • Exercising excessively
  • Becoming preoccupied with food, cooking for other people
  • Going to the bathroom or toilet immediately after meals
  • Using laxatives and vomiting to control weight.

It may be difficult for parents or teachers to tell the difference between ordinary teenage dieting and a more serious problem. If you are concerned about a child or young person's weight and how they are eating, discuss it with them and/or their parents and advise then to consult their family doctor.

What causes eating disorders?

Eating disorders are caused by a number of different things:

  • Worry or stress may lead to comfort eating. This may cause worries about getting fat.
  • Dieting and missing meals lead to craving for food, loss of control and over-eating.
  • Anorexia or bulimia can develop as a complication of more extreme dieting, perhaps triggered by an upsetting event, such as family breakdown, death or separation in the family, bullying at school or abuse.
  • Sometimes, anorexia and bulimia may be a way of trying to feel in control if life feels stressful.
  • More ordinary events, such as the loss of a friend, a teasing remark or school exams, may also be the trigger in a vulnerable person. 

    Information on Eating disorders