Breaking down disordered eating

According to the UK eating disorders charity, Beat, there are around 1.25 million people in the UK living with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are so much more complex than someone starving themselves because they want to look like someone they have seen on social media. It can affect anyone, whether they are male or female and can be any age too. There are different ways disordered eating can affect an individual’s and there seems to be a lock of understanding around them when they venture outside of anorexia. The reasons behind an eating disorder isn’t necessarily to lose weight or be smaller, sometimes it can be about control or punishment when it comes to disorders such as binge eating disorder.

Here is a bit more detail on the different eating disorders affecting people all over the world:

Individuals with anorexia have a low weight (usually diagnosed when a BMI reaches 17.5 or less) due to restricting the amount they eat and drink. They may have rules around the foods they can and cannot eat, when and where they can eat and when they should exercise. People with anorexia often see themselves with a distorted image and not how others see them. They may think they are larger than they really are. They experience a deep fear of gaining weight and will usually challenge the idea that they should.

ARFID (Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder)
Where an individual avoids certain food types or groups or restricts the overall amount eaten. For example, cutting out carbohydrates or only allowing yourself 1200 calories per day. There are a number of causes of ARFID including hypersensitivity to the taste, texture, smell or appearance of foods which can lead to sensory based avoidance or restriction of intake. Alternatively, if an individual has had a distressing experience with food eg choking, stomach pain or sickness, it may lead to fear and anxiety of food. Lastly, an individual may not recognise they are hungry leading to restricted intake due to low interest in food and eating.

Binge Eating Disorder
Evidence suggests that binge eating disorder is more common than other eating disorders. An individual with this disorder eats very large quantities of food without feeling like they’re in control of what they are doing. A binge eating episode can include eating much faster than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry and eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten. Feelings of disgust, guilt or shame are often recognised during or after the binging episode. 

Individuals suffering with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing) following by trying to compensate for it by vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting or exercising excessively (called purging). Thin bingeing episode can be a way for someone to cope with difficult emotions, for example, stress, anger or anxiety. People with bulimia place strong emphasis on their weight and shape, and may see themselves as much larger than they are.

OSFED (Other specified feeding or eating disorder)
Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are diagnosed using a list of expected behavioural, psychological, and physical symptoms. Sometimes a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected symptoms for any of these three specific eating disorders. In these cases an individual may be diagnosed with OSFED.

Where an individual is eating non-food substances that have no nutritional value, they may receive a diagnosis of pica. For example, eating items such as paper, soap, paint, chalk or ice. The behaviour must have been present for a minimum of one month and it won’t be diagnosed in children under the age of 2. The reasons that people develop pica are not yet clear, although several scientists have linked it to the nervous system, and have understood it as a learned behaviour or coping mechanism.



When I have worked with clients with a diagnosed eating disorder or difficulties with their relationship with food, I have spent a session exploring nutrition with them from calories to metabolism and balanced diets. It has helped all of my clients on their journey to recovery, so I have created a short course to help others access it who may not be in a position to acces therapy or would like to enhance their knowledge in order to make changes to  their perception and beliefs of food. 

Billie Pursglove

Billie Pursglove

Owner of Energy Psychotherapy and BACP Registered Member.