Eating disorders

What do we call “disordered eating”? It is an umbrella term which covers a wide range of behaviours that all relate into an underlying problem with food. The most common form of disordered eating is routine “comfort eating”. Different problems range from binge–eating and compulsive eating, to anorexia and bulimia.

What is disordered eating? Disordered eating is a symptom to an underlying problem, and can often begin or progress as a way of dealing with stress or worry. It is a coping mechanism used to deal with other problems that may or may not be completely unrelated to food and body–image.

Medical consequences: Disordered eating can have a number of medical consequences, from malnutrition, obesity, kidney problems and disturbance of other bodily functions. Common effects include depression and sleeping problems, which cause additional worry, and may lead to further problems. For many, eating may provoke feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear or self–hatred so that sufferers may be unable to eat with others and become socially isolated. While sufferers of disordered eating can often feel they are alone, it is important to realise that this is not the case.


Symptoms include bouts of excessive eating, followed by periods of restriction and purging (compensatory behaviour such as self–induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medication, fasting or excessive exercise, binge eating and a resultant feeling of being out of control with a distorted perception of own weight, size and shape).

The condition often goes unnoticed because individuals with bulimia may be any size or weight and not look ill. Outwardly, sufferers may appear to be in control of their lives, despite severe physical and mental consequences.


Anorexia is the most outwardly recognisable form of disordered eating. Sufferers of anorexia starve themselves and the longer the condition continues, the more difficult it can be to tackle. In severe cases it can necessitate hospitalisation and can prove fatal.

Symptoms include secretive and isolated eating, vigorous exercise regimes, cessation of periods in women, “purging” via vomiting or laxative/diuretic use, distorted perceptions of one’s weight, size and shape e.g. thinking they are fat however thin they actually are.

Compulsive eating

Compulsive eaters may feel unable to regulate or make decisions regarding their dietary intake, constantly trying to gain control yet unable to. Compulsive eating or “binge eating” usually occurs when the individual is feeling distressed, anxious or angry, regardless of appetite.

Symptoms include uncontrollable episodes of binge eating, marked distress about binge eating and the attempts to control it, eating more quickly than normal and eating until uncomfortably over–full, eating meals alone in secret, feeling disgusted and guilty with themselves and finally restricting food intake severely between binges.