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How to spot: eating disorders

by Amanda Collins

There’s a lot of myths about eating disorders, so before we start, let’s clear a few of them up.

Eating disorders are not extreme diets
They are not lifestyle choices
And they are not limited to teenage girls, they can affect anyone at any age.

The truth of the matter is that eating disorders are serious mental health conditions which can have lasting health consequences, and they need to be treated as such.

help for eating disorders

How to spot an eating disorder

There are several types of eating disorders and these include:

Anorexia Nervosa (characterised by low body weight, restrictive dieting, food purging, and at times extreme exercising).

Bulimia Nervosa (characterised by fluctuating body weight, recurrent binge eating, food purging, and at times extreme exercising).

Binge Eating Disorder (frequently eating large quantities of food, even when not hungry, in short periods of time; occasional periods of fasting or restrictive dieting to compensate).

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (Combines elements of other eating disorders but doesn’t fully sit within one or the other).

Click on the name of the disorder to find out more.

The signs of an eating disorder

Eating disorders affect sufferers mentally, physically and behaviourally.

Each of the above disorders has its own set of distinctive symptoms. They do however have a number of common symptoms and these include:


  • Tired all the time
  • Can’t sleep or have disrupted sleep
  • Extreme changes in weight and body shape
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Sudden food intolerances
  • Gets sick often


  • A preoccupation with weight, shape and food
  • Rituals around food and meal times (for example, they may cut food into tiny chunks, etc.)
  • A strong sense of shame, particularly in relationship to food
  • Low self-esteem and self-loathing
  • Preoccupation with exercise and nutrition
  • Increased irritability
  • Trouble concentrating or fuzzy thinking
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • A real phobia of gaining weight


  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Avoiding favourite events and activities
  • Secrecy around food and eating
  • Lying about food and eating
  • Hiding food
  • Abuse of laxatives, appetite suppressants or stimulants

What to do now

If you think that you may be suffering from an eating disorder, find out more here. This post will help you to understand what you’re going through, and will show you where to get help.

Alternatively, if you think someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, find out where to get help here.

Do you have a passion for helping people?

A Diploma of Counselling from Open Colleges will equip you with the knowledge and skills to make a real difference in people’s lives.

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