What are eating disorders?🧐

An “Eating Disorder” is a term that describes various presentations characterized by abnormal behaviors and beliefs around weight and eating. They are serious mental illnesses that can cause psychological and long-term physical problems, and recovery can be tough without help.


🕊️ However, recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and those who seek help earlier are more likely to recover, and more likely to recover faster.


When people hear about eating disorders, they often have a narrow idea of what they look like. But the truth is, eating disorders are common and anyone can get one. How they look can vary wildly from one person to the next.


Many people tend to be preoccupied with weight, shape, and eating. They may feel distressed or out of control around food. This may result in different behaviors like:

  • Some may under-eat and put themselves at risk of starvation.

  • Some may binge eat (eat very large amounts of food over a brief time) - they may do this after not eating for a long period of time, or when dealing with high emotions and events.

  • Some people may purge (vomit or use laxatives) to try to compensate for food they ate, putting themselves at serious risk.


Many people don’t fall neatly into one of these categories and do one or more of these behaviors over time.


🚧 Symptoms of an eating disorder:

If you have an eating disorder, you may experience some, although maybe not all, of the following symptoms. You may:

  • avoid certain foods or severely restrict how much you eat

  • feel pride in avoiding certain food groups and skipping meals

  • experience uncontrollable bouts of eating (bingeing)

  • feel the need to exercise excessively to burn off consumed calories

  • make yourself sick or use laxatives to lose weight (purging)

  • find yourself always thinking about food

  • feel tired

  • feel ashamed of your eating habits


Eating disorders are not one size fits all, so your experience may be different from someone else’s, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need or deserve help.


As well as the more obvious signs of eating disorders outlined above, here are some more subtle signs that you may be experiencing:


  • Allowing yourself to eat only after walking a certain amount of steps

  • Stashing away certain foods for when you feel a certain way

  • Hiding your behaviours from friends and family

  • Counting calories in your head

  • Feeling guilty after eating

  • Fearing and avoiding certain foods

  • Dressing in layers to stay warm (even when it’s warm outside!)

  • Setting your fork down between each bite


There are many more examples, too. Just because your experience doesn’t fit a stereotype of an eating disorder doesn’t mean you don’t need help, or that you’re not deserving of help.


👀Looking for a positive community to support you on your recovery journey?


🧡Join our ED Recovery Discord here!


(If you don't have Discord, it's easy and free to sign up!)


Written By:

Lindsey Depledge

Lindsey is one of the founders of Beanbag Health with a personal passion for eating disorders. She's a behavioral scientist with a background in health-tech and ed-tech in the US. She has designed healthcare and education programs at scale, engaging millions of Americans and thousands of students globally, including many from traditionally underserved backgrounds.

Clinically Reviewed By:

Iain Jordan

Iain is a consultant psychiatrist with postgraduate training in medicine, psychiatry, complexity science, and healthcare informatics. He's fascinated by the relationship between physical health and mental health and has extensive experience with eating disorder patients in inpatient settings. He's an honorary senior clinical lecturer at University of Oxford. His passion is making psychological strategies for recovery available to all.