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Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have severe psychological, physical and social consequences. An eating disorder can involve eating too much, or too little, getting rid of food that has been eaten or a combination of these behaviours. Those with eating disorders may have negative perceptions of their body image, such as their weight and shape, and often have other mental health problems alongside the eating disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Eating disorders commonly start in adolescence but can start earlier or later during childhood or adulthood.

The NHS identifies the following symptoms of eating disorders:

  • spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
  • avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved
  • eating very little food
  • making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
  • exercising too much
  • having very strict habits or routines around food
  • changes in your mood such as being withdrawn, anxious or depressed

Individuals may also notice physical signs, including:

  • feeling cold, tired or dizzy
  • pains, tingling or numbness in your arms and legs (poor circulation)
  • feeling your heart racing, fainting or feeling faint
  • problems with your digestion, such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea
  • your weight being very high or very low for someone of your age and height
  • not getting your period or other delayed signs of puberty.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published an updated clinical guideline on the recognition and treatment of eating disorders in December 2020 which provides the following definition:

[Eating disorders are] defined by the negative beliefs and behaviours they cause people to have about themselves and their eating, body shape and weight. They can cause people to adopt restricted eating, binge eating and compensatory behaviours (such as vomiting and excessive exercise). The emotional and physical consequences of these beliefs and behaviours maintain the disorder and result in a high mortality rate from malnutrition, suicide and physical issues (such as electrolyte imbalances). This is most common in people with anorexia nervosa. There are also other physical complications (such as osteoporosis) and psychiatric comorbidities (such as anxiety disorders) that affect the wellbeing and recovery of people with an eating disorder and raise the cost of treatment.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 26 February – 3 March 2024

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an international event for raising awareness and understanding of eating disorders, challenging stereotypes and stigmas.

This year the UK eating disorder charity Beat is focusing on avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), which is a condition characterised by the person avoiding certain foods or types of food, having restricted intake in terms of overall amount eaten, or both.

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