Eating disorders

Eating disorders can affect men and women. People with an eating disorder worry about what they eat. Food can control their life and stop them making decisions about what they eat and how much they eat. You can get help for an eating disorder from your doctor and specialist services.

Reasons for having an eating disorder

People with an eating disorder use food to help them cope with stress or difficult situations, sometimes often without realising.

There are different reasons why  people can develop an eating disorder including:

  • long-term illness or disability
  • family strife or a death in the family
  • pressure at school, including bullying
  • being abused
  • worries about their personal appearance
  • lack of self-esteem

Symptoms of an eating disorder

Someone who has an eating disorder may show symptoms such as:

  • weight loss
  • always weighing themselves or examining themselves in the mirror
  • avoiding eating with others
  • excessive exercise
  • thinking they are grossly overweight
  • binge eating
  • forced vomiting or fasting
  • using laxatives and water-tablets
  • secret eating with the same kind of food
  • hoarding secret supplies of food


People with anorexia nervosa severely reduce the amount of food they eat because they fear gaining weight.  They lose weight but view their body size as being larger than their actual size.

In severe cases, people can die from having anorexia because their normal body functions are disrupted.


People with bulimia nervosa eat a lot of food very quickly and then make themselves sick or take laxatives to get rid of what they've eaten. They do this in cycles, sometimes several times a day or every few months. 

Binge eating

People with a binge eating disorder can gain large amounts of weight because they binge on food when they're not hungry.

Binge eating is usually in response to negative moods. Binge eaters can become obese and can develop problems with their heart, blood pressure and general level of fitness.

Getting help

If left untreated, eating problems can seriously affect your health. If you think you, or a friend or relative has an eating disorder, talk to a doctor.

They can:

  • suggest ways of treating the problem
  • refer you to local eating disorder services
  • give you contact information for support groups in your  area

Support available

There are voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland providing support and advice to people with an eating disorder and their families. To find services, use the search tool below.

Eating Disorders Association NI provides support and a helpline for adults and young people with eating disorders and their families.

Caring about Recovery from Eating Disorders (CARED) supports families affected by eating disorders in Northern Ireland. Their website has information about their services and advice on coping with eating disorders if you're concerned about a family member.

The Laurence Trust provides information and support to men living with eating disorders and their families. 


The information on this page was provided by the Department of Health.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed April 2018

This page is due for review May 2021

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