Eating Disorder Guide for 16 to 75-year-olds: Signs, Symptoms & Rehab

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 treat 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.

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 25 years old.

Types of Eating Disorders

Common eating disorders are:

Anorexia

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

Bulimia

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 centre shows that up to 6.4% of adults have some signs of an eating disorder.

Which eating disorder is the most common?

Binge eating, bulimia and anorexia

At what age do people develop eating disorders?

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

How long do eating disorders last?

Several years if left untreated

Is it possible to recover from an eating disorder?

Yes. With professional treatment and a strong aftercare support programme

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 and dieting
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories 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
  • Anaemia
  • Thyroid issues
  • Low potassium
  • Low white and red blood cell counts
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Sleep problems
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin and hair, brittle nails
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor wound healing

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 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 Effects

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

Bones

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.

Heart

Food restriction and purging dehydrate the body, impacting electrolyte levels, leading to decreased muscle function. Like 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 miscarriage.

Brain

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

Rehab

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 – 19-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
  • Cognitive Behavioural and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
  • An introduction to 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.

Don’t waste another day