NHS Lothian

Eating Problems

2 min read

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a group of problems that change someone’s attitude towards food and their body in a way that influences what they do and their eating habits. People with eating disorders spend a lot of time thinking about their weight and body shape, and they may do things like restrict what they eat, binge eat, or exercise more than is healthy. Extreme changes in eating habits and behaviour can negatively affect many areas of life, including a person’s physical health, mental health, and social functioning.


What’s it like to have an eating disorder?

People who struggle with eating disorders often feel overpowered by self-critical thoughts and self-doubt; a bit like having a bully sitting on their shoulder, all day, every day, criticising their weight, shape, eating habits and general self-worth.  It can feel like fighting in an invisible argument every day. When an eating disorder is at its worst, it can bring with it extreme anxiety and low mood, and it can interfere with relationships.

For more information on what it’s like to live with an eating disorder, watch:

Don’t give up: a letter to myself about my eating disorder | My Mental health Story | Mind

Don't give up: a letter to myself about my eating disorder | My Mental health Story | Mind
“So for my selfie I’ve decided to read a letter that I wrote to my younger self when I was in the depths of my eating disorder. It’s really an encouragement to prove that now, in my position, it’s worth fighting your eating disorder, it’s worth going through recovery. So I hope this letter can also be of help to anyone struggling with any type of mental health problem, not just an eating disorder. So here we go…”


What causes eating disorders?

Nobody knows for sure what causes eating disorders. For some people, social pressure to be thin and unrealistic social media influence may be linked to the development of eating disorders. But the causes are usually much more complex. There are lots of possible reasons why a person might develop an eating disorder, and the causes are different for everybody.

These causes can be thought of as psychological, environmental, or biological.


Psychological Factors

Many people who develop eating disorders share certain patterns of thinking and behaviour. This list is not exhaustive, but these include:

  • A tendency towards feeling low in mood, or anxious
  • Finding it difficult to cope with stress
  • Finding it hard to express feelings
  • A tendency towards perfectionistic or unrealistic standards


Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are parts of the world around a person, and events happening in their life, that can affect their mental wellbeing in a variety of ways.
These include:

  • Pressure from society to look a certain way
  • Big, stressful life changes
  • Difficult life experiences, such as abuse or bullying
  • Difficult relationships with friends or family


Biological and Genetic Factors

Some people may be more likely to develop an eating disorder because of the way their brain works, and how that affects their body. One biological factor that might make someone more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder is having a family history of, or family members with eating problems.


How common are eating disorders?

During their lifetime, an estimated 5% to 10% of people may experience an eating disorder.


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If you, or someone you know, is in crisis and in imminent danger of causing harm to themselves or others, call 999 immediately

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