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An eating disorder is a serious condition where people have an unhealthy relationship with food which can take over their lives both mentally and physically.
It can mean someone is constantly thinking about food and weight, and uses food to meet needs other than hunger. If someone has an eating disorder, they might eat too much all at once, not eat enough, or do things to get rid of the food they’ve eaten, such as throwing up or taking laxatives. A person can be any size and have an eating disorder.
There is no single cause of an eating disorder and it's nobody’s fault that a person develops one. Instead, eating disorders are often a way of managing emotional distress and coping with difficult life events.
Someone who has an eating disorder is also likely to feel bad about themselves and what they look like, and feel as though they don’t have much control over their life. Usually, the person will need professional help as well as support from their friends and family to overcome their eating disorder. Though it is challenging to support someone through an eating disorder, they can get better.
Some people go to great lengths to hide their eating patterns and may deny there is anything wrong. Here are some changes in behaviour you might notice that could be warning signs that something is wrong:
Remember this is just a general guide, and only a medical professional can diagnose an eating disorder.
If you're concerned about the eating behaviours of someone you care about, it’s okay to let them know you're worried. People with an eating disorder may be feeling ashamed, guilty, or not good enough, and may be afraid to ask for help. Let them know why you are concerned, and talk with them about what's going on with them.
Although it's difficult seeing someone you love suffering with an eating disorder, remember recovery is possible. Here are some ways that you can help, and some resources to support you and the person you are helping.
Confidential Helpline: 0800 376 633
Youthline provides free phone, text, and email counselling support. Its website has great information for youth dealing with challenging situations including information for young people with eating difficulties.
Confidential Helpline: 0800 233 269
EDANZ is a society established by parents to provide support and education for parents and caregivers of people with eating disorders. It provides information on how to get help in your region.
F.E.A.S.T. is an international organisation of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders. They provide information and mutual support, promote evidence-based treatment and advocate for research and education to reduce the suffering associated with eating disorders.