What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a preoccupation and obsession with food, eating, body image and appearance. This preoccupation and obsession can manifest in such destructive behaviours as self-starvation (sometimes leading to death), obsessive dieting, bingeing, purging through laxatives and diuretics, engaging in excessive exercise, and hoarding, hiding or stealing food.

There are 3 major types of eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Overeating. The two most commonly recognised and diagnosed of these are Anorexia and Bulimia. Both are more common among young adults than at any other age. Young women appear to be more affected than young men but the incidence of eating disorders amongst young men is increasing.

Symptoms of anorexia

  • Excessive weight loss (25-30% of body weight);
  • Unusual eating habits including severe restriction of food or compulsive fasting or refusal to eat normally;
  • Extreme physical activity;
  • Hair, nail or skin problems;
  • Depression and low self-esteem;
  • Withdrawal and isolation;
  • Irregular or complete loss of menstrual period;
  • Denial of the problem.

Symptoms of bulimia

  • Eating binges during which the person consumes large amounts of food;
  • Purchase of large quantities of food;
  • Purging after the consumption of large quantities of food;
  • Feelings of guilt and disgust after purging;
  • Abuse of laxatives or diuretics;
  • Secretive behaviour regarding eating habits;
  • Weight fluctuations;
  • Depression;
  • Denial of the problem.

Eating disorders rarely have a single cause. They may develop from stress, social pressures and/or psychological problems. Eating Disorders if left untreated, can cause many physical and emotional problems some of which can have long-term effects. People affected by eating disorders need help and support both from professionals and from family and friends.

If you know someone who you think may have an eating disorder or if you think you may have one yourself, you can talk about your concerns by contacting Counselling and Psychological Services.

You can also obtain further information about eating disorders from the following links.