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Most common eating disorders in the UK

Eating disorders are defined as an abnormal attitude towards food and cause a change in eating habits or behaviour. Eating disorders lead to people making unhealthy choices about food which, whether the result leads to an individual being over or underweight, can be extremely damaging to their health. Eating orders can affect an individual physically, mentally and even socially.

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Common eating disorders

There are numerous types of eating disorders and conditions; some eating disorders do not fit squarely into one category and can be a combination of several factors. The three main types of eating disorders in the UK are usually categorised as:

  • Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is the most well-known eating disorder today. It's described as a condition where someone tries to keep their weight as low as they possibly can, normally by starving themselves excessively or exercising to keep weight off.
  • Bulimia: Bulimia eating disorders are when someone binge eats (eating a lot infrequently) and tries to control their weight by being sick or taking laxatives to empty their bowels.
  • Binge eating: Binge eating, as opposed to anorexia nervos and bulimia, is when someone is compelled to overeat.

Other disorders not listed above may be categorised as atypical eating disorders if they don't fit into the above categories or there are symptoms present from other categories of eating disorders.

What causes eating disorders?

Although the general assumption is that eating disorders are caused by social pressures to be thin (i.e., images on television and in newspapers of thin celebrities) the causes are often extremely complex. There may be biological factors that encourage the disorder, psychological factors or a combination of both.

According to the NHS, the most likely causes of eating disorders are:

  • A family history of substance abuse, depression or eating disorders;
  • Being criticised previously for eating habits or weight;
  • Being overly concerned about being thin, particularly if it is linked to some kind of social activity or job (i.e., taking ballet or trying to become a model);
  • Other characteristics from other disorders, such as obsessive personality disorder, anxiety disorder, perfectionism or low self-esteem;
  • Particular experiences that have a profound psychological effect (such as abuse or the death of someone special);
  • Stressful situations, such as problems at school or home.

If eating disorders are not treated they can have a negative impact on a person's health, social life, job or school work. The physical effects of eating disorders can also be fatal.

Treatment of eating disorders

The treatment of eating disorders normally involve monitoring the physical health of a person and providing support to help them deal with underlying psychological causes of the condition. Depending on the individual treatment given, this can range from:

  • Cognitive behavioural theory to change the way a person thinks about himself or views the world;
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy, where the patient talks to a trained professional on relationship-based issues;
  • Psychodynamic therapy to change how a person's personality or life experiences influence their current thoughts and behaviour.

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