Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. Anyone, no matter what their age, gender, or background, can develop one. Some examples of eating disorders include bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. There’s no single cause and people might not have all symptoms for any one eating disorder. Many people are diagnosed with “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED), which means that their symptoms don’t exactly match what doctors check for to diagnose binge eating disorder, anorexia, or bulimia, but doesn’t mean that it’s not still very serious. It’s also possible for someone’s symptoms, and therefore their diagnosis, to change over time. For example, someone could have anorexia, but their symptoms could later change so that a diagnosis of bulimia would be more appropriate.

Could you have an eating disorder?

If you haven’t had reason to know much about eating disorders previously, it may be that your understanding of them is based on the way they’re shown in the media, for example. This often portrays a particular type of story in terms of who gets eating disorders, what causes them, and what the symptoms are. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the full spectrum of eating disorders and people who can develop them.

  • Studies suggest around a quarter of people with eating disorders are male.
  • In 2015, 15% of the calls to our Helpline were about someone aged 40 or over.
  • According to a study (Fairburn & Harrison 2003), 80-85% of people with eating disorders are not underweight.
  • Stereotypes about who gets eating disorders might make them even harder to spot among older people, men and boys, and ethnic and cultural minority groups. The real number of sufferers overall could be much higher than we think, but particularly among groups like these.

Your circumstances, feelings, and symptoms may be very different to what you’ve seen or read about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an eating disorder. If you think you might be having problems with your eating or feel that difficult feelings or situations are making you change your eating habits or feel differently about food, you could have an eating disorder or be developing one.

You can read more about the symptoms of different eating disorders here. If you’re at all worried about yourself or someone else, it’s always best to seek help as quickly as possible, as this gives the greatest chance of a full recovery.

Eating disorders can be a way of coping with feelings or situations that are making the person unhappy, angry, depressed, stressed, or anxious. They are not the fault of the person suffering, and no one chooses to have an eating disorder. Sometimes people worry about talking to someone because they feel their eating disorder isn’t serious enough, they don’t want to worry people or waste their time, or because they feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed. But no matter whether your eating difficulties began recently, you’ve been struggling for a while, or you were treated for an eating disorder in the past that you think might be coming back, you deserve to have your concerns acknowledged respectfully, to be taken seriously and to be supported in the same way as if you were affected by any other illness.

What can you do next?

Beat has lots of other information that you may find useful if you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder and as you start thinking about getting help:

The best next step is to book a GP appointment. The earlier you can get treatment, the better your chances of recovery. We have put together an information leaflet, available herefor people to take with them when they go for an initial appointment, with sections for people with eating disorders or concerned they have one, those supporting them, and the GP. The aim of the leaflet is to get you a referral to a specialist, who can assess your personal needs and develop a plan for your treatment.

Realising that you or someone you know might have an eating disorder can be very frightening, but remember that full recovery is absolutely possible, and Beat is always here to provide support.

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.