Eating Disorders

Everybody eats. We do so because we need to and because we enjoy it. There is, however, as with all human behaviour extremes and huge differences. Some people eat more, some eat less, and some put on weight easily others do not. Some people go to extremes where they eat too much or not enough.

It is said that women suffer from eating disorders 10 times as much as men, however it is believed that men are increasingly prone to eating disorders, which tend to start off at home in the teenage years. * Some of the more common conditions are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Selective eating
  • Restrictive eating
  • Compulsive overeating

We have looked at two of the above conditions: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, 'nervous loss of appetite' often starts in the mid-teens, and affects one in every one hundred and fifty, fifteen-year-old girl.* Usually anorexia nervosa begins with dieting, that is so much a part of a teenager's life. There is not usually a problem with the individual's appetite so the translation can be a little misleading. As mentioned above, men can also suffer from anorexia. It has been reported by researchers that male sufferers of anorexia, are more likely to contract osteoporosis than their female counterparts.**

It is said about one third of sufferers were overweight before they started to diet. As the young person has not lost their appetite, they may still feel hungry, eat a lot, then feel guilty afterwards and make themselves sick or take some laxatives. When the desired weight is reached however the anorexic continues dieting, until they are well below the normal weight/height limits for their age. Common signs include fear of fatness, under eating, excessive loss of weight, vigorous exercise and stopping of monthly periods.


As the time wears on for the anorexic, they may develop symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Bulimia means 'ox hunger' and refers to the fact that people suffering with bulimia seem to have ravenous appetites.*** This may involve eating, in a very short period of time, vast quantities of sugary or fattening foods. This may amount to three or four times the normal amount most people would eat in one meal.*** The person may then make themselves sick or sometimes take a laxative treatment. It is believed that around three out of every one hundred women, at some time in their life, will be affected. Bulimia is rare before puberty, affecting around 3-4% of teenage girls.***

Unlike people with anorexia, people with bulimia are often of normal weight, so their eating difficulties may be less apparent than those of the anorexic Eating disorders are very often rooted in poor self-image, control factors or the individual being unable to express emotion in a correct way. Eating may also sometimes be a comfort factor, making the individual feel comfortable and/or hiding real feelings.

The facts and figures were obtained from:

* Anorexia and Bulimia published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

** University of Iowa, USA 2000

*** Eating disorders: A Parents Guide. By Rachel Bryant-Waugh & Bryan Lask

Overeaters Anonymous

Eating Disorders Association

01603 621 414


The Maisner Centre

01273 729 818


01304 841 700

National Centre for Eating Disorders

0845 838 2040