About eating disorders

Anyone, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not a choice, but are serious and complex mental illnesses that can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life – physical, emotional and social. The earlier an eating disorder is identified, and appropriate support and treatment is given, the greater the opportunity for recovery.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a mental health condition where unhealthy eating behaviours, such as eating too much or too little, are used to cope with feelings and other situations.

There are many misconceptions about the cause of eating disorders, most notably that they stem simply from a desire to influence body weight and size. In reality, attitudes to body shape and size and the physical impact on actual body weight are outcomes of an eating disorder. The cause(s) being much deeper-seated results of social, biological, and psychological factors.

Whilst each person’s experience will be unique to them and the type of eating disorder present, common behavioural patterns include:

  • Extreme restriction of food intake/calories, or excessive consumption of food/calories (compared to what would be considered normal according to age, gender, height etc)
  • Frequent cycles of bingeing and/or purging
  • Excessive or compulsive exercising used to compensate for calorie intake
  • Misuse of laxatives or vomiting to eliminate foods eaten
  • Obsessive rituals surrounding food or unhealthy eating habits and beliefs
Why do eating disorders develop?

Firstly, if you or someone you love has an eating disorder, it’s really important to know that it is not your fault or because of something you did or didn’t do.

A mix of social, biological, and emotional factors combine to create an eating disorder meaning that there is often no single cause or trigger. Research studies have also shown that there is likely to be a genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder which helps counter the misconception that eating disorders are a choice.

Difficult or traumatic life events may trigger an eating disorder. Events such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, ill health, bullying or abuse or any other experience that causes feelings of physical or emotional difficulty. Those with mental health conditions may be more likely to develop an eating disorder. Sometimes however, there is no immediately obvious cause. There is still much we need to understand about the causes of eating disorders.

Learn more about the different types of eating disorder

Anorexia nervosa


Binge eating disorder

Bulimia nervosa


Other eating problems

Are you worried that you, or a loved one may have an eating disorder? Our Peer Support Team have lived experiences of eating disorders and recovery.

To talk to someone who understands, book a 1:1 support call, we’re here to help.

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