Treating Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are described as illnesses that are characterised by irregular eating habits and severe distress and concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbance may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. 

The different types of eating disorders

  • Anorexia nervosa: male or female can suffer from this. They will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight, refuse to maintain a realistic or healthy weight. Most suffering from this disorder will limit the quantity of food intake and see themselves as over weight.

  • Bulimia nervosa: this eating disorder is characterised by repeated binge eating followed by behaviours that compensate for the overeating, such as forcing self to vomit, excessively exercise, or use laxatives or diuretics. Male and females experiencing this type of eating disorder will fear weight gain and feel unhappy with their body size or shape.

  • Binge eating: individuals experiencing binge eating will frequently loss control over their eating. They may develop obesity and are at risk of developing other cardiovascular disorders.

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

People suffering from eating disorders will display physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms will not always be apparent in everyone but someone suffering from an eating disorder will display some.

Emotional and behavioural: 

    • Behaviours and attitudes that illustrate that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming a person’s primary concern
    • Refusal to eat certain foods or certain categories of food
    • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food
    • Becoming preoccupied with food, calories and counting
    • Withdrawal from usual friends and usual activities
    • Extreme concern about body weight, shape and size
    • Mood swings
    • Checking in the mirror a lot more
    • Continually seeking reassurance about weight and look


      • Noticeable fluctuation in weight up and down
      • Menstrual periods missing or irregular
      • Difficulty concentrating
      • Abnormal blood test finding
      • Fainting, dizziness and sleep problems
      • Cuts or marks across the top of the fingers from vomiting
      • Dental problems
      • Fine hair or hair beginning to grow on the body
      • Cold circulation
      • Poor wound healing
      • Compulsive exercise
      • Hiding of food

      Statistics of eating disorders

      Between 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from anorexia nervosa.

      1.0% of young women and 0.1% of young men will meet criteria for bulimia nervosa at any given point in time.

      It is more common in young women ages 13 years to 17years.

      Getting help for an eating disorder

      First thing which should be done is a visit to the GP. A GP will ask relevant questions about eating habits and may refer the patient to an eating disorder specialist or team.

      If you are seeking help for someone you know, encourage them to speak to you, point out to them the changes you have notice and suggest you go and visit a GP with them.

      Treatment for eating disorders

      The most important thing to note is that you can recover from an eating disorder. It can take time and a lot of work, but it is possible.

      If the patient is referred to a specialist, they will be responsible for their care. The specialist will also talk about any other support which may be beneficial. Treatment will depend on the type of eating disorder but a talking therapy will most likely be involved, along with regular health checks.

      Sometimes self-help programmes will be advised for those experiencing bulimia or binger eating.

      CBT is a type of therapy which may be offered and it will usually involve weekly sessions, depending on the patient's health trust they can vary from 12 weeks up to 40 weeks. The CBT therapist will create a personalised treatment plan to help the patient cope with their feelings, understand nutrition and the effects of starvation, and to help them make healthy food choices. The CBT therapist will ask them to practice these techniques on their own, measure progress and show them better ways to manage their feelings in relation to their eating habits.

      Maudlsey norexia nervosa treatment for adults involves talking to a therapist in order to understand what is causing the eating disorder. It focuses on what is important to them and helps them to change their behaviours when they are ready. Family can be involved in this treatment.

      Specialist supportive clinical management involves talking to a therapist who will help the patient understand what is causing their eating disorder. They will learn about how their current eating patterns cause their symptoms. They will be offered 20 sessions and the therapist will set a target weight for them to reach.

      Focal psychodynamic therapy is a type of therapy that is usually offered if the others do not work.  It includes helping the patient to understand how their eating habits are related to how they feel about themselves and others in their life.

      Medication such as antidepressants can be offered in combination to therapy.

      It is best practice to work with a therapist who has specialist training in eating disorders and is part of a multidisciplinary team which can monitor health as well.