Eating disorder - medical information

In teenagers, eating disorders affect seven girls in every 1000, but only one boy in every 1000.

Eating disorder

  • 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 becomes an obsession.
  • This can turn into a serious eating disorder. 

The most common eating disorders are 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 their periods become irregular or 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. 

Both of these eating disorders are more common in girls, but do occur in boys. They can happen in young people of all backgrounds and cultures.

Causes of eating disorders

  • 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 break-down, 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.

Symptoms of eating disorders

  • Significant weight loss or gain.
  • Continuous dieting or discussions of dieting.
  • Fear of weight gain.
  • Persistent preoccupation with food/eating/weight.
  • Persistent preoccupation with fashion, clothes sizes and/or personal appearance.
  • Eating while alone or in secret.
  • Hidden food or laxatives/diuretics.
  • “Grazing” or eating all day or for as long as food is on offer.
  • Vomiting – or regularly retiring to the toilet – after meals.
  • Frequently running the taps while in the toilet (to cover evidence of vomiting).
  • Swollen cheeks and/or bad breath (from vomiting).
  • Excessive exercising to burn calories.

Treatments for eating disorder

  • Most eating disorder cases will be treated on an outpatient basis.
  • However in very severe cases an admission to hospital or specialist inpatient centre may be required.

Anorexia nervosa

  • Treatment includes refeeding and psycho-social interventions.
  • Family intervention that directly address the eating disorder should normally be offered as part of the treatment plan.

Bulimia nervosa

  • A course of specially designed cognitive behaviour therapy may be offered.

 

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