Eating Disorder Symptoms, Signs And Treatment Guide

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, our team of specialists at Banbury Lodge may be able to help. We are one of the few centres that treats teenagers (16+).

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are progressive and sometimes chronic illnesses which can take over your life – to the detriment of your emotional, physical and mental health, as well as your social, work, and personal life.

If you have an eating disorder you have an unhealthy relationship with the intersecting issues of food, body image, and mental and emotional health.

Eating disorders very much vary in symptoms and can involve eating too much or too little. They are often characterised by becoming obsessed with weight and body shape, as well as the nutrient and calorific content of individual foods and whole food groups.

Men and women of any age can develop an eating disorder, but they most commonly affect young women aged 13 to 17 years old.

They quite often last well into adulthood and have many severe consequences if left untreated.

You can however stop your eating disorder in it’s tracks and recovery is then possible.

Types of Eating Disorders

Common eating disorders are:


The main symptom of anorexia is deliberately losing a lot of weight or keeping your body weight much lower than is healthy for your age and height.
Signs and symptoms include:

  • missing meals, eating very little or avoid eating any foods you see as fattening
  • lying about what and when you’ve eaten, and how much you weigh
  • taking medication to reduce your hunger (appetite suppressants), such as slimming or diet pills
  • exercising excessively, making yourself sick, or using laxatives diuretics.
  • an overwhelming fear of gaining weight
  • strict rituals around eating
  • believing you are fat when you are a healthy weight or underweight
  • not admitting your weight loss is serious

You may also notice physical signs and symptoms such as:

  • unusually low body mass index
  • your periods stopping (in women who have not reached menopause) or not starting (in younger women and girls)
  • boating, abdominal pain,
  • headaches
  • feeling cold or very tired
  • poor circulation
  • dry skin, hair loss from the scalp, or fine downy hair (lanugo) growing on the body
  • reduced sex drive
  • Co-occurring mental health issues such as depression


The main signs of bulimia are eating a large amount of food over a very short time (binge eating) and then ridding your body of the extra food (purging) by making yourself vomit, taking laxatives or exercising excessively, or a combination of these.

Other signs of bulimia include:

  • fear of putting on weight
  • being very critical about your weight and body shape
  • mood changes – feeling very tense or anxious, for example
  • thinking about food a lot
  • feeling guilty and ashamed, and behaving secretively
  • avoiding social activities that involve food
  • feeling like you have no control over your eating

You may also notice physical signs like:

  • feeling tired
  • a sore throat from being sick
  • bloating or tummy pain
  • a puffy face

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

The main symptom of binge eating disorder is eating very large amounts of food in a short time, often in an out-of-control way. But symptoms may also include:

  • eating very fast during a binge
  • eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • eating when you’re not hungry
  • eating alone or secretly
  • feeling depressed, guilty, ashamed or disgusted after binge eating
  • People who regularly eat in this way may have binge eating disorder.


Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Symptoms don’t exactly match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, but it doesn’t mean it’s a less serious illness. OSFED is the most common, then binge eating disorder and bulimia. Anorexia is the least common.

The five OSFED examples are:

  • Atypical Anorexia Nervosa:
  • Atypical Bulimia Nervosa:
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Purging Disorder:
  • Night Eating Syndrome:

Key Facts about Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are more common than you think, despite being more popular among teenagers it remains a growing problem for adults too.

How many people in the UK have an eating disorder?

  • Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have a current eating disorder.
  • The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence estimates around 11% of those affected are male.
  • Research from the NHS information center shows that up to 6.4% of adults have some signs of an eating disorder.

Which eating disorder is the most common?

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder – OSFED is the most common, then binge eating disorder and bulimia. Anorexia is the least common.

At what age do people develop eating disorders?

Although many eating disorders develop during adolescence, it is not at all unusual for people to develop eating disorders earlier or later in life.

How long do eating disorders last?

Research suggests that the duration of anorexia is on average, eight years and five years for bulimia. However, these illnesses can also last for many years.

Is it possible to recover from an eating disorder?

Yes. Thankfully research suggests that it is possible to recover. Around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, a 33% show improvement, while 20% remain chronically ill. Similar research into bulimia suggests that 45% make a full recovery, 27% improve, and 23% suffer chronically.

Signs, Symptoms, and Causes

Eating Disorders are a group of illnesses that are characterised by unhealthy eating habits, and severe emotional distress and preoccupation about body weight or shape.

Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences of untreated eating disorders can be severe, progressive, and fatal.

Signs & Symptoms

Someone suffering from an eating disorder may experience symptoms such as:

  • Emotional and behavioural
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviours as weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat, micro and macro nutrient content of foods, and dieting
  • Restriction around eating, either certain foods or whole food groups.
  • Being uncomfortable eating around others
  • Food rituals
  • Skipping meals or only eating small portions of food
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Mood swings
  • Physical
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight
  • Stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal complaints
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anemia
  • Thyroid issues
  • Low potassium
  • Low white and red blood cell counts
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Feeling cold
  • Sleep problems
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin and hair, brittle nails
  • Swelling around area of salivary glands
  • Fine hair on body (lanugo)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning

Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are complex disorders, influenced by a combination of different factors. It is believed that a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of these illnesses.

Examples of biological factors include:

  • Irregular hormone function
  • Genetics
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Examples of psychological factors include:

  • Negative body image
  • Poor self-esteem

Examples of environmental factors are:

  • Dysfunctional family dynamic
  • Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modelling
  • Sports where an emphasis is placed on maintaining a lean body for enhanced performance
  • Family and childhood traumas.
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • severe trauma
  • Cultural and/or peer pressure
  • Stressful life events

Eating Disorders are more an unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening ways of trying to cope with emotions than they are to do with food.

Eating disorders can take over your life and can be very difficult to overcome. But with the correct treatment you can learn healthy and effective coping mechanisms to help you to build a life you really love.

Long Term Affects

Every organ of the body can be damaged through eating disorders, including the brain, heart and kidneys. This damage may not be fully reversible, even when the eating disorder is under control.
In addition to the host of physical complications, people with anorexia also commonly have other mental health disorders as well. They may include:

  • Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Alcohol and substance misuse
  • Self-injury, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts


Low estrogen levels can contribute to significant losses in bone density, according to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center.

The stress of being malnourished on the body can also contribute to excessive production of the adrenal hormone cortisol, which is known to trigger bone loss.

Low bone density can lead to more stress fractures and, possibly, osteoporosis.


Food restriction and purging dehydrate the body, impacting electrolyte levels, leading to decreased muscle function. As a muscle the heart very much depends on electrolyte balance to function properly.

Eating disorders can contribute toward prolonged maladaptive functioning the result of which can be can be heart disease, heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), cardiomyopathy (weakening heart), muscle weakness that can border on paralysis, and tetany (involuntary muscle contractions).

Reproductive System

Eating disorders also affect the effectiveness of the reproductive system. Women with a history of eating disorders have higher rates of infertility and of miscarriage.


When the brain doesn’t get enough nutrition, it loses brain matter. The white matter returns when weight and nutrition are restored, but the grey brain matter does not. These deficits may not be clinically evident initially, but may be associated with long-term effects on cognitive functioning and the ability to concentrate.

Neurological consequences of eating disorders are related to length or the disorder.

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Each person will respond differently to different treatment approaches. It is often the case that rehab, medication, and therapy all play a role in eating disorder recovery. With support you can stop the eating disordered thinking and behaviour and recovery is then possible.


Residential rehabs offer rigorous medical, therapeutic, and holistic programmes of recovery for eating disorders. These programmes are facilitated by professionals in the field.

Banbury Lodge provides a bespoke treatment plan for those suffering from Eating Disorders, which includes a plan for 16 – 18 year olds.

Our Eating Disorder programme provides a blend of:

  • Medication where appropriate
  • 24 hour care from clinical and support staff
  • One-to-one therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Specialised therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Art Therapy
  • An introduction to the 12 steps and support groups such as Eating Disorders Anonymous.
  • Skills workshops
  • Educational workshops
  • Holistic treatments
  • Family Therapy
  • Aftercare and relapse prevention

Rehab will provide you with a space in which to explore your feelings and get to know yourself better. Rehabs are able to provide and use a range of therapeutic styles and tools and aim to tailor the approach to your needs and goals specifically.

In rehab you will explore your feelings around your disordered eating and think more broadly about what you want out of life. You will have the opportunity to stop the eating disordered behaviour, to build on your self-esteem, and to develop more effective and satisfying ways of communication with family and others.


Medications and Eating Disorders: Medication can be a valuable tool in the treatment of eating disorders, especially where it accompanied by other therapies and an ongoing approach to recovery.
Below is a listing of some of the most common medications prescribed in treating Eating Disorders.

Sertraline hydrochloride:

  • Antidepressant (SSRI – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor); SSRIs selectively affect neurotransmitter (the chemicals that send messages to and from the brain) mechanisms in the central nervous system.
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat mental depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorders.

Paroxetine hydrochloride:

  • Antidepressant (SSRI – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor); SSRIs selectively affect neurotransmitter (the chemicals that send messages to and from the brain) mechanisms in the central nervous system.
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat mental depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorders.

Fluoxetine hydrochloride:

  • Antidepressant SSRI – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor); SSRIs selectively affect neurotransmitter (the chemicals that send messages to and from the brain) mechanisms in the central nervous system.
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat mental depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorders.

Venlafaxine hydrochloride:

  • Antidepressant (unique class of antidepressants called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Believed to work by increasing neurotransmitter effects in the brain.).
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat depression.

Bupropion hydrochloride:

  • Antidepressant (structurally unrelated to tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI).
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat major depressive disorders, by increasing the levels of certain nerve transmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. It is also believed that it also acts as a brain stimulant.
  • *The extended release formulation of this drug is also indicated to help in smoking cessation.


  • Antidepressant
  • Oral administration
  • Used in the treatment of depression and for the symptomatic relief of depressive illness, significantly reduces the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Desipramine hydrochloride:

  • Tricyclic antidepressant
  • Oral administration
  • Used in treatment of endogenous depressive illness, including the depressed phase of manic depressive illness, melancholia, and psychotic depression this has also been used to treat cocaine withdrawal, panic disorder and Bulimia Nervosa.

Imipramine hydrochloride:

  • Tricyclic antidepressant
  • Oral administration
  • Used for relief of depressive illness, panic disorder, chronic pain (from migraines, tension headaches, diabetes, cancer, arthritis), and bulimia nervosa.


  • Antidepressant
  • Oral administration
  • Used for the symptomatic relief of depressive illness.


  • Anxiety medication (a type of central nervous system (CNS) depressant or medicine that slows down the nervous system).
  • Oral administration
  • Used to treat anxiety, anxiety associated with depression and panic disorders.

Lithium carbonate:

  • Mood stabiliser
  • Oral administration
  • Used in the treatment of acute manic episodes in patients with manic-depressive disorders. Maintenance therapy has been found useful in preventing or diminishing the frequency of subsequent relapses in patients with bipolar disorder. It has also been used to treat migraine headaches, bulimia and alcoholism.

Naltrexone hydrochloride:

  • Oral administration
  • Used for the treatment of Alcoholism, binge-related Eating Disorders. Naltrexone may also be useful in treating those who self-harm.


In addition to medication you may benefit from some kind of talking therapy such as individual therapy, therapeutic skills building workshops, and family therapy. Therapy can help you to:

  • Manage feelings effectively, cope with stress, and to identify early warning signs of relapse which can help with managing both illnesses.
  • Improve your relational and communication skills which will enhance your ability to participate in daily activities and meaningful relationships
  • Feel supported to process and explore and heal.

Counselling will give you a safe, confidential, and private place to explore issues including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Alcoholism and Addiction
  • Childhood Issues
  • Trauma
  • Self esteem
  • Relationships
  • Shame & Guilt
  • Grief & Loss
  • Gender
  • Anger Management
  • Stress Management
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Family Issues
  • Body Image

Counselling can help you to overcome your eating disorder and to learn to deal with obstacles as they come up.

Using various techniques you and your counsellor will work together to;

  • Identify self-defeating patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaviour.
  • Broaden and build on your natural strengths.
  • Develop your skills set and ability to deal with situations in a positive and healthy way

The first port of call when seeking help is may be your GP. Acknowledging the problem and seeking help is an important first step on the journey toward recovery. Attending counselling will give you space to talk about what you’re going through in a private, non-judgemental setting.

Therapy may include;

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Medication
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Though recovering from eating disorders can be challenging, therapy can really help you to overcome your eating disorder.

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