Eating disorders

For many of us, food is one of the best things in life. But for some, it can be a nightmare. Eating disorders are serious conditions that involve disordered thoughts and behaviours around food, weight and body shape. There are several different types of eating disorders but all can have severe physical and mental health consequences. When you are suffering from an eating disorder, it can seem like a helpless situation but help is available. Eating disorder rehab can help you to recover from these awful conditions, achieve a healthier relationship with food and lead a happy, fulfilling life.

Eating disorders - scales and tape

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are behavioural addictions which manifest as a compulsion to consume food, restrict eating or lose control over how much they eat. These conditions are incredibly difficult to live with because food is an essential part of life so sufferers have a daily battle with themselves and their disorder. There are several different types of eating disorders but the most common include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: A condition where people severely restrict their food intake and obsessively monitor their body shape.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Characterised by “purging” after eating to prevent weight gain either by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: Also known as Compulsive Eating Disorder, BED involves eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, with no control over the amount consumed or sense of being full. Bingeing often happens in secret and can lead to feelings of shame and guilt afterwards.

It is important to understand that these eating disorders are not mutually exclusive and many people suffer from more than one. For example, someone suffering from BED may also have Bulimia Nervosa and purge after eating.

What causes eating disorders?

Eating disorders can have both physical and psychological causes. Genetics may play a part for some sufferers, with certain variants in genes increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder. They can also be caused by a combination of psychological and environmental factors such as low self-esteem, underlying mental health conditions, past trauma, body image issues, the pressure to look a certain way or diet culture.

No two cases are the same but for most sufferers, an eating disorder is a coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions or situations that they find overwhelming. While some short-term relief can be gained, however, it becomes a vicious cycle as the eating disorder takes over and causes further distress.

Do I have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can quickly get out of control and can cause serious health issues so it is crucial to identify them as soon as possible. This isn’t always easy as many people with eating disorders become highly adept at hiding their condition from those around them and often convince themselves that there is no problem.

If you are worried that you may have an eating disorder, ask yourself these questions which can indicate common signs and symptoms:

  • Do I often eat large amounts of food in a short period of time?
  • Do I frequently make myself sick after eating or take laxatives?
  • Do I feel ashamed or guilty when I overeat?
  • Do I constantly worry about my weight and body shape even though people tell me I’m healthy?
  • Do I restrict my calorie intake to an unhealthy level?
  • Do I feel like food controls my life and makes me anxious?
  • Do I feel anxious about eating in front of other people?
  • Do I exercise obsessively because I think I need to burn off the calories?

While the symptoms of different eating disorders vary, if you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be a sign that you have an eating disorder and should seek help immediately.

The health risks of eating disorders

All eating disorders can be both symptoms and causes of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. In addition, each disorder has its own impacts on physical health, some of which can be incredibly serious. These include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anemia, malnutrition, weakened immune system, brittle bones, hair loss, organ failure, infertility, heart problems, electrolyte imbalances, starvation and extreme dehydration.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, tooth decay and gum disease from vomiting acid, heart problems from purging, inflammation of the stomach lining, digestive problems, broken blood vessels in the eyes, starvation and organ failure.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: Diabetes, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis, weight gain, obesity and an increased risk of certain cancers.

It is also important to be aware that eating disorders can affect relationships with family and friends, impact education and job performance and lead to social isolation. All of these can add further strain to mental health and make recovery more difficult.

Eating disorders - depressed woman suffering with anorexia

How are eating disorders treated?

Effective treatment for eating disorders requires a multidisciplinary approach and may include psychotherapy, nutritional counselling, medication and support in developing healthy coping strategies. It is also essential to create a supportive environment where the sufferer can feel safe and accepted. This usually comes in two stages: eating disorder rehab and aftercare.

Eating disorder rehab…

The aim of eating disorder rehab is to identify and understand the underlying cause of the condition and develop the skills and strategies needed to manage it. Professional help is usually best provided in a specialist residential setting. Here, sufferers have the opportunity to interact with other people in a similar position and gain insight into their condition from experienced staff who are available 24/7.

Our sister centre, Banbury Lodge, provides inpatient eating disorder rehab programmes for the three main types of eating disorders as well as various OSFEDs (other specified feeding or eating disorders). These programmes involve:

  • Individual counselling
  • Group therapy
  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
  • DBT (Dialectic Behavioural Therapy)
  • Mindfulness
  • Family support therapy
  • Nutritional counselling
  • Yoga
  • Art Therapy

Eating disorders - yoga therapy


After you leave eating disorder rehab, it is important to stay connected with the people, resources and practices that have helped you on your recovery journey. Our aftercare involves free weekly group therapy sessions which will help support you through any future challenges.

How to prevent eating disorder relapse

Eating disorder relapse is unfortunately common with between 35-41% of Anorexia Nervosa sufferers relapsing after having received rehab treatment. Relapse can be triggered by a variety of events such as stress, anxiety or simply not having enough support. To help prevent relapse it is important to:

  • Keep up with your recovery plan – Make sure you attend all your aftercare therapy sessions and stick to the meal plans provided by your nutritionists.
  • Stay connected – Lean on your support network whenever you feel overwhelmed. This could be family, friends, counsellors, sponsors or our Alumni Network (all our clients are invited to join this network when they leave eating disorder relapse)
  • Be aware of your triggers – Identify any triggers that may lead to a relapse and take the necessary steps to avoid them
  • Take care of yourself – Make sure you look after your physical and mental health by eating well, exercising regularly and taking some time for yourself each day.

If you do relapse, it is very important that you don’t let it destroy all the progress you have made. Use it as a learning experience and reach out for help as soon as possible.

Eating disorders in the UK

It can be difficult to know for sure how many people are living with an eating disorder because many people are not aware that they may have a problem or are too embarrassed to seek help. Estimates suggest that there are around 1.25 million people in the UK with an eating disorder, and while most are young women and adolescent girls, there are also sufferers among boys and men (particularly with BED).

Worryingly, there has been a significant increase in the number of young people seeking treatment for eating disorders in the past few years. The Covid-19 Pandemic is thought to be a major factor behind this rise in numbers as people were left anxious and isolated during lockdown and didn’t have access to mental health support and treatment. In fact, between April and December 2021, 10,000 children and young people began treatment for an eating disorder. This shows the importance of understanding the condition and knowing where to get help.

How to access eating disorder treatment

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, get in touch with Banbury Lodge today. Our sister centre can provide you with the help and support you need to make a full recovery. We know that seeking help can be a big step, but we are here to provide you with the knowledge, understanding and compassion you need to start your journey to a healthier, happier life.

Frequently asked questions

What role do loved ones play in the eating disorder treatment process?
Family and friends can play a crucial role in the rehab treatment process by providing emotional support and helping the individual adhere to their treatment plan. It’s important for loved ones to educate themselves about eating disorders and be supportive of the individual’s recovery journey. In some cases, family-based therapy can be effective in treating eating disorders, especially for children and adolescents.
How long does treatment for eating disorders usually take?
The length of treatment for eating disorders depends on a number of factors, including the individual’s specific disorder, their level of motivation, their response to treatment and the severity of their symptoms. It can range from several weeks to months with some individuals requiring ongoing support for years to prevent relapse.
Is eating disorder rehab a cure?
Unfortunately, there are no magic cures when it comes to eating disorder recovery as the journey is often a hard one with many twists and turns. However, with the right commitment to treatment and the guidance and support of our expert eating disorder team, rehab can give you the best possible chance of overcoming these awful conditions and living a healthy, happy life.
There are many different types of eating disorder and those who are affected by them will suffer in various ways. But th... More