Information for the public

What is an eating disorder?

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is when you have an unhealthy relationship with food which can take over your life and make you ill. It might involve eating too much or too little, or becoming obsessed with controlling your weight. The most common types of eating disorder are:

  • anorexia nervosa: keeping your weight down by not eating enough food or exercising too much; you could start to starve, which can make you very ill

  • bulimia nervosa: going through periods of eating a lot of food quickly ('bingeing') and then trying to get rid of calories in unhealthy ways, for example by making yourself sick, using laxatives ('purging'), exercising too much, taking medication or using diet supplements

  • binge-eating disorder: regularly eating large portions of food all at once (often in secret) until you feel uncomfortably full, and then often upset or guilty

  • OSFED: this means 'other specified feeding or eating disorder' and means you don't have all the typical symptoms of one of the types above – it does not mean it is a less serious illness.

An eating disorder can happen to anyone, male or female and at any age, although they most commonly start in young people aged 13 to 17 years. They can happen to people from any cultural, religious or social background.

Eating disorders are serious medical conditions, and when they get really bad they can put your life at risk. However, there are treatments that can help, and you can recover from an eating disorder.

You can find out more about eating disorders from NHS Choices.