What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are abnormal eating habits associated with psychological factors. Individuals are so preoccupied with food and weight that they can focus on little else. Insufficient or excessive food intake leads to the detriment of the individual’s physical and mental health that can have life-threatening consequences.

Who may be affected by an eating disorder?

Beat estimates more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Although more common in certain age groups, eating disorders can affect people of any age.

  • 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point.
  • Bulimia is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% are female.
  • Binge eating affects males and females equally and estimated to affect around 5% of the adult population.

Causes and signs of eating disorders

Factors that may cause an eating disorder

An eating disorder may be associated with biological, genetic, or environmental factors combined with a particular event that triggers the disorder. There may also be other factors that maintain the illness:

  • Family history of eating disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Difficult relationships and stressful situations
  • Being criticised for eating habits, body shape, and weight or being overly concerned with being slim
  • Underlying characteristics; obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • Emotional or sexual abuse or the death of someone special

Signs of an eating disorder

It is common for someone with an eating disorder to be secretive and defensive about their eating and their weight, and they are likely to deny being unwell.

  • Missing meals; repeated claims they’ve eaten are or eating later
  • Only eating certain low-calorie foods such as lettuce or celery
  • Cooking big or complicated meals for other people, but eating little or none themselves
  • Feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places
  • Complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • Repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror

Eating disorders treated at Nightingale Hospital

We treat the following eating disorders at Nightingale Hospital, in central London:

We are able to offer eating disorder treatment in the following settings:

We offer services for families.

Our team is led by:

  • Nightingale Hospital Lead Consultant for Eating Disorders, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Helen Murphy
  • Nightingale Hospital Lead Therapist for Eating Disorders, Dr Joanna Silver

Useful information resources for eating disorders

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, provides many resources to support those with eating disorders and their families.

*If you are enquiring about an emergency, please contact your general practitioner or local emergency services.

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