An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control.
Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also characterize an eating disorder. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life.
Common eating disorders include: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder (when someone feels compelled to overeat). Eating disorders affect both men and women. They frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorders. People with anorexia nervosa are 18 times more likely to die early compared with people of similar age in the general population.
Do I have an eating disorder? Doctors sometimes use a questionnaire called the SCOFF questionnaire to help recognise people who may have an eating disorder. This involves asking the following five questions:
Sick: Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
Control: Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
One stone: Have you recently lost more than one stone (six kilograms) in a three-month period?
Fat: Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
Food: Would you say that food dominates your life?
If you answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, you may have an eating disorder. If it is not treated, an eating disorder can have a negative impact on someone’s job or schoolwork, and can disrupt relationships with family members and friends. The physical effects of an eating disorder can sometimes be fatal.
If you think you may have an eating disorder, try to seek help as soon as possible. You could start by talking to someone you trust, such as someone in your family or a friend, and perhaps ask them to go with you to see your doctor.