We see individuals who have a range of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Sometimes you may have some elements of these disorders, but not all. In this case, you may be found to have an 'atypical' eating disorder.


There are different types of eating disorders, but the defining features of all eating disorders are:

  • A deviation from normal eating behaviour, for example severely restricting amounts or types of food eaten, over-eating or binge eating
  • Using other behaviours in an attempt to control weight, for example self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics or excessive exercise.
  • Problems with physical health and/or psychological functioning caused by the disturbed eating behaviours or other weight control behaviours.
  • Preoccupation with, and excessive concern with body shape, weight and eating.

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with anorexia are unable to maintain a healthy body weight, leading to a weight which is at least 15% below what would be considered healthy for their height. Typically this would be a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 17.5 or below. This low weight is reached through avoiding 'fattening' foods and/or restricting the quantity of foods that are eaten through restricted portion sizes and/or going long periods of time without eating. An individual with anorexia will often see themselves as fat and be extremely fearful of gaining weight. Self-esteem is usually highly dependant on weight and body shape. Women can experience a loss of periods and both men and women experience a loss of interest in sex. Some people with anorexia may also binge eat and purge (self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics) or use excessive exercise to try and control their weight. 

Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with bulimia binge eat regularly (at least twice a week) and use compensatory methods such as purging (self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics), excessive exercise or restricting their eating to prevent weight gain. During binges people usually eat large amounts of high-calorie foods rapidly, and with some sense of loss of control over their eating. Binges are often triggered by mood states such as depression and anxiety, stress, hunger or food cravings, and feelings and thoughts related to body shape or weight. Most people with bulimia make themselves sick after their binges and about a third use laxatives. Many people feel that their bulimia is shameful and they try to conceal it. Self-esteem is highly influenced by weight and body shape.

Binge Eating Disorder

Individuals with binge eating disorder binge eat regularly (at least twice a week). During binges people usually eat large amounts of high calorie foods rapidly and whilst doing so have a sense of loss of control over their eating. This behaviour is often associated with feelings of shame, so binge eating usually occurs in secret. Individuals with binge eating disorder often have a long history of struggling with their weight and trying many diets in an attempt to lose weight. 

If you think that any of these disorders describe what you or someone else is currently struggling with click here to see how you can access the service.



The page was last updated on 10 April 2019 by nlegg.


Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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