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Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice or “phase”. They are serious mental illnesses that involve extreme concern about eating, weight or shape plus disordered eating.

Eating disorders aren’t all about food. People with eating disorders often feel a lot of pain, sadness and worry. The eating disorder can be a way to cope.


‘Disordered eating’ can include limiting food intake, binge eating (eating a very large amount of food at once and feeling out of control of eating) and/or purging (making yourself sick or misusing laxatives). People may also exercise a lot, or exercise in rigid ways.

Anyone can develop an eating disorder. They occur in boys and girls, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and people of all cultures.
 
Adolescence and early adulthood are peak time periods for the development of an eating disorder. 

Some of the symptoms associated with eating disorders include:

  • Thinking about food all the time
  • Dieting
  • Missing meals
  • Eating alone
  • Counting calories
  • Worry around meal times
  • Guilt after eating
  • Worrying about losing control around food
  • Comfort eating
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent changes in weight
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Signs of damage due to vomiting (like grazed knuckles)
  • Worries about body shape and weight
  • Frequent checking of your body shape or weight
  • Avoiding looking at your body
  • Comparing your body with others
  • Eating meals very slowly
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
  • Stealing food
  • Regularly asking for reassurance from others about food, body weight or shape
  • Avoiding lots of foods
  • Avoiding social situations

Usually at least a few of these symptoms are present in someone with an eating disorder.

"An eating disorder is never the solution to a person’s distress or difficulties. It is always the problem."

Ulrike Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Professor of Eating Disorders

"FREED allowed me to realize that having an eating disorder doesn't define me, and my life does not have to be this way forever. I, like all humans, am worthy of happiness."

FREED service user

Alex’s story – Eating disorders aren’t just about food.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to take the quiz "Do I have an eating disorder".

There are four main categories of eating disorder: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). OSFED is no less serious than the other categories and just means that symptoms don’t exactly match those for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.

OSFED includes atypical anorexia nervosa, atypical bulimia nervosa, purging disorder and night eating syndrome. In older diagnostic systems, the term “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) was used instead of OSFED.

It is very common for people to move between different eating disorder diagnoses over time.

All eating disorders are serious. There are effective treatments for all disorders.


"FREED has helped me understand my eating disorder for what it is. So far it has helped me to spot thoughts better and understand the process in my head. It’s also helped me to treat it as a legitimate problem."

FREED service user

"Whatever your eating disorder diagnosis, help is available. The sooner you make changes, the sooner you can get on with your life."

Karina Allen, Clinical Psychologist

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to take the quiz "Do I have an eating disorder".

If you or someone you care about has been showing symptoms you are concerned about, you may want to take a clinically backed quiz.

"The earlier you get help for your eating disorder, the more likely you are to make a rapid and sustained recovery."

Michaela Flynn, Research Worker

"When I began FREED, I had no hope that I would feel better. I wanted nothing more than to be skinny and I didn't want to listen to anyone who said that there were other, more important things. Now, six months on, I see that there is more to life than my weight and I can enjoy food again. Being able to eat without feeling guilty every time has been life changing."

FREED service user

Shilla received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Yes! Only anorexia nervosa is associated with being underweight. People with other eating disorders will be a healthy weight or overweight / obese.

Eating disorders are serious conditions regardless of body size.

"I thought I didn’t deserve help because I wasn’t thin enough. I now know that how you look on the outside says very little about how you’re feeling on the inside. Eating disorders aren’t just about weight. Everyone deserves help!"

FREED service user

"You can have an eating disorder whatever your weight."

Vicki Mountford, Clinical Psychologist

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

FREED is First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders. It is a service for 16 to 25-year-olds who have had an eating disorder for three years or less.

Young people getting help for their eating disorder through FREED are given rapid access to specialised treatment which gives special attention to challenges we know young people face during these years of their life, and in the early stages of an eating disorder.


FREED is a flexible evidence-based treatment approach focused on early intervention; making it much more effective than traditional treatments at reversing the changes to brain, body and behaviour caused by eating disorders. 


The FREED service was developed and tested by the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust Foundation’s Eating Disorders Unit and King’s College London. When FREED was compared with “business as usual”, FREED reduced the amount of time an eating disorder was left untreated. FREED patients waited less time for assessment and treatment and had better treatment outcomes. Most made a full recovery from their eating disorder within one year. Using the FREED service was a positive experience for patients, carers and staff.


FREED confirmed that treating people as early as possible leads to better results for eating disorder treatment.


In 2016, FREED was introduced to three new eating disorder services in the UK. In 2018, FREED is being introduced to eight new services. By 2020, we hope that at least 20 services will be using FREED. Work is also being done to establish FREED in Australia.


People sometimes ask why FREED is only for those aged 16 to 25 with an eating disorder of up to three years. If someone has only been unwell for a short time treatment seems to work better. This is most true during adolescence and young adulthood. People with eating disorders also experience changes to their brain, body and behaviour. In the first three years of illness these changes are more easily reversed. 


Eventually, we hope that everyone with an eating disorder will be able to access tailored, specialist treatment quickly. FREED is one step towards this goal. 


"If it wasn't for FREED's rapid intervention, I would not have been well enough to pursue my dream of going to university. It makes me emotional to think how much my life has changed in one year of treatment. The steps have been small, but each step has brought me closer to, as well as made me feel I am worth, recovery."

FREED service user

"We’re really excited about FREED because it’s making a difference to the care that we provide to patients, and they tell us that it helps them at the point that they need it."

FREED clinician

A video overview of FREED – First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders.

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What's next?

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If someone has only been unwell for a short time treatment seems to work better. This is most true during adolescence and young adulthood. This means that with early treatment there is a better chance of a full recovery.

Early intervention means getting help and support as soon as possible when you need it. Research tells us that we should try and reach someone with an eating disorder within the first three years of the illness. People with eating disorders experience changes to their brain, body and behaviour. In early stages these changes are more easily reversed.

After three years, eating disorder symptoms tend to become “hard wired” in the brain. Symptoms can still be changed, but it gets harder to make changes. There may be long-lasting consequences. The sooner you get help, the easier it is to recover quickly and fully. Early intervention also means you are less likely to miss out on study, relationships and other opportunities because of your illness.


There are two key things that stop early intervention for eating disorders: difficulties spotting the illness early, and difficulties getting help. You can use our quiz “Do I have a problem” to see if you have difficulties that need help. You can use our guide to seeking help and support for assistance with getting the help you need.


"FREED has really saved my life. Early intervention is crucial and without this I probably would not be where I am now - I am sustaining a job, have moved out to a new home, and able to love myself. I still have eating issues and anxieties but I have come so far in my wellbeing and quality of life."

FREED service user

"Without FREED I am not sure I would be here today, getting early intervention was such a positive thing to happen to me when I was in a really dark place, and it gave me lots of hope for the future."

FREED service user

Phoebe received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Yes! It has been estimated that at least 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder are male. In fact, the true figure is likely to be higher because men are less likely to receive treatment for an eating disorder than women. 

Males with eating disorders may focus on being "muscular" or "fit" but this is not always the case. Eating disorders are just as serious in males as in females and everyone deserves help and support for their eating difficulties, regardless of sex or gender.

"I would encourage anyone who is concerned, or wants help, to just ask."

Nick*, FREED service user

"Opening up to a person you trust is the first step towards recovery."

Ulrike Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Professor of Eating Disorders

What's next?


Pictures of the brain (brain scans) show that when someone is unwell with anorexia nervosa some areas of the brain shrink.

However, pictures of brains also show that once someone has recovered, there is an increase in their brain size again. The longer they are recovered the more improvement in brain size there is. If people recover quickly and fully, they will not usually have any long lasting effects.

Shrinkage of the brain is mostly associated with anorexia nervosa, but other eating disorders also impact brain functioning. Up to one quarter of our calorie intake each day goes to the brain. If someone is struggling to eat, either eating too little or binge eating and purging, the brain may not get enough energy. This can lead to mood swings, poor concentration, and difficulties making decisions.

The brain is made up of white and gray matter. White matter connects different parts of the brain with one another. It also sends messages between the parts. Gray matter is responsible for all the brain’s most important jobs like memory and planning.


Technology has allowed us take detailed pictures of the brain. This has allowed us to look at how the brain is influenced or changed by illnesses like anorexia nervosa. Studies have collected brain images from people with eating disorders and compared them to those of people who have never had anorexia. These studies have shown that adults with anorexia have less white and grey matter in the brain than people who have never had anorexia. This means that their brains are smaller in size. In fact, the brain of someone with anorexia can look similar to the brain of someone with dementia, a very serious disease of the brain.


We do not know exactly why the brain shrinks in anorexia. It may be due to damage caused by starvation. As the brains of young people are still developing up until the mid-20’s, their brains may be particularly affected by anorexia symptoms. In fact, we may see even more brain shrinkage in these younger people.


One very important question: Can brain shrinkage be reversed with recovery? The answer seems to be YES! A review of a number of studies showed that once people had returned to a healthy weight, there was an increase in the amount of white matter in the brain. Moreover, after staying at a healthy weight for a few years there was also improvements to grey matter. In fact, there was so much improvement that there were no longer any differences in brain size between those with anorexia and those without.


Although these findings are positive and encouraging, we still have a lot to learn. We still don’t exactly know how eating disorders affect brain shrinkage. We also don’t know if there are areas of the brain that are more affected than others. Or if some damage cannot be reversed. 


One thing we can be certain of is that the earlier we can provide help the better. The sooner you combat an eating disorder the better the outcome for the brain is likely to be.


"It is possible to fully recover from an eating disorder, so seek help early."

Danielle Glennon, Service Lead

"It is so important than anyone suffering is helped before it feels impossible to recover and this is why the FREED project is key."

FREED service user

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to read our guide to eating disorders and the brain.

We are so pleased you’re here. We have developed a Help and Support guide to help young people just like you. We also have a Get Help and Support tool that can help you work out which steps you’re ready to take, and which services are available in your area. The sooner you seek support, the sooner things can start to get better.



"An eating disorder is the most lonely thing in the world. It doesn’t have to be. Ask for help!"

FREED service user

"Opening up to a person you trust is the first step towards recovery."

Ulrike Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Professor of Eating Disorders

Hannah received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of the initial assessment session at her eating disorder service.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

We are so pleased you’re here. Even if you’re not sure you have an eating disorder, it can be useful to talk to someone else about the difficulties you’re experiencing. Help is available and it is better to seek help sooner rather than later. However, if you don’t feel ready to seek help yet or don’t think you need to, there are support options you can access online and some self-help books you can work through yourself.

Our Help and Support guide includes information for young people just like you. We also have a Get Help and Support section that can help you work about which steps you’re ready to take, and which services are available in your area.

"If you’re worried about eating, weight, shape or exercise – help is available. You don’t have to deal with the problem on your own."

Karina Allen, Clinical Psychologist

"It's really been life-changing... I went from being a ball of nervous, anxious energy that was highly self-critical to someone who can appreciate their accomplishments and relax a bit more when food is mentioned."

FREED service user

Alex’s story – Eating disorders aren’t just about food.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Of course! There are support options you can access online and some self-help books you can work through yourself. Our Get Help and Support section can help you work about which steps you’re ready to take. Our Help and Support guide also has lots of information and reassurance about what it is like to seek treatment, if you decide to do this in the future.

We have information on this site about how to start making nutritional changes to improve your eating; how to manage “healthy eating” or “clean eating” messages; how to manage social media if you have an eating disorder; coping at university with an eating disorder; and the impact of eating disorders on the brain.

"Even though it's so clear now, it was extremely hard to realise and accept that I had an eating disorder. This program really helped me to accept myself and care about the things that are important to me."

FREED service user

"I waited so long to seek treatment because I was worried I wasn’t sick enough, and was so anxious about what it would involve. It took a few sessions before I started to relax but it was the best thing I ever did. I missed out on so much of my first year at university because of my eating disorder. I wish I’d got help sooner – so if you’re like I was, don’t wait!!"

FREED service user

Phoebe received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

It is never too late to seek help. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible at any age, and after any length of illness. You can use our guide to seeking help and support for ideas on next steps to take. If you have had treatment before, you probably already know the sorts of things that do (and don’t) help you.

Some of our Stories are from people who have recovered from their eating disorder without FREED treatment. They talk about how early intervention might have helped them, but also show that you can recover even after a long period of being unwell.


"I had pretty much accepted I'd be sick forever; I still can't believe that I'm recovered, and that my life can be this much happier and carefree."

FREED service user

"It’s never too early, or too late, to get help. Treatment may be difficult but you deserve to feel better."

Bethan Dalton, Researcher

Marissa has recovered from anorexia nervosa and is an advocate for eating disorder awareness, treatment and recovery.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

We are so pleased you’re here. We have developed a Help and Support guide to help young people just like you. We also have a Get Help and Support tool that can help you work out which steps you’re ready to take, and which services are available in your area. The sooner you seek support, the sooner things can start to get better.

"Everyone is nervous before their first appointment, but most leave the session relieved that they have taken that first step."

Amy Brown, Clinical Psychologist

"I genuinely never thought I could feel this OK around food and the like. It just shows that you never know how capable you are of getting better until you try and can get the help you need."

FREED service user

Hannah received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of the initial assessment session at her eating disorder service.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Please do!

If you are a young person and would like support with an eating disorder, use our Get Help and Support page to see what treatment options are available for you. If you are in an area where FREED treatment is available, we’ll let you know. If FREED treatment isn’t available in your area, we will help you find other options.

If you would like to share your experiences of having an eating disorder or receiving eating disorder treatment, or of caring for someone with an eating disorder, we would love to hear from you. We continually evaluate what we do based on feedback from service users and the community. You can contact Dr Karina Allen, Senior Clinical Psychologist and FREED Network Lead, on 020 3228 3180 or via karina.allen@slam.nhs.uk .

If you are interested in taking part in other projects or research studies to do with eating disorders, you can see current opportunities at King’s College London (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/depts/pm/research/eatingdisorders/take-part-in-our-research/take-part-in-our-research.aspx ).

If you are a professional, please see our page specifically for professionals.

"It is so important than anyone suffering is helped before it feels impossible to recover and this is why the FREED project is key."

FREED service user

"Our goal is to make FREED available to everyone who needs it, no matter where you live and what your circumstances are."

Karina Allen, Clinical Psychologist

A video overview of FREED – First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

We know that seeking help and starting treatment can be daunting. For this reason, we want you to hear from other young people about what it is like as they will reassure you more than we can. Hear from other young people below as they share their treatment experiences.

If you would like more information on the types of eating disorder treatment available, read more.

Before you start eating disorder treatment, you will need to be referred to an eating disorder service. In some areas, you can self-refer but most services require a GP referral. Our Help and Support guide talks more about this.


Once you have been referred to an eating disorder service, the next step is an initial meeting or ‘assessment’ at the service. This appointment can last for up to 2 hours and is a chance for you to share what is difficult for you and what you would like help with. You will meet with a psychologist, doctor, nurse, therapist or other trained mental health professional who is used to seeing young people just like you. They will be interested in what you have to say and will work hard to make you feel at ease. Usually they will have some specific questions for you, including questions about eating, weight and exercise; your mood and general mental health; your physical health; and your interests, background and family. Measuring height and weight is an important part of an eating disorder assessment and sometimes blood pressure, temperature and blood tests may be arranged too. If you have any worries – ask in advance or on the day. It’s normal to feel nervous but people usually feel much better once they have attended.


After the assessment, plans will be made for your treatment. Treatment choices for eating disorders included guided self-help (working through treatment materials yourself but with support from a clinician at the eating disorder service); group treatment; individual treatment; and family treatment. Sessions with a dietitian may be available too. Group and individual treatments are usually a form of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). The Maudsley Model of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA) may be used for anorexia nervosa. Some services offer Cognitive Analytical Therapy or compassion-focused therapy. 


Key to all eating disorder treatment is you. Your goals, needs and requirements will be taken into account and you will be an active partner in treatment.


"I had kept my bulimia, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts a secret from most of my friends, family and colleagues for such a long time. Choosing to go to a FREED assessment and then have CBT treatment was incredibly hard. It wasn't easy, but with time I challenged my eating and slowly recovered. I have no words to describe how grateful I am for that."

FREED service user

"Therapy is like learning to drive a car... You learn in session and practice in between."

Omara Naseem, Counselling Psychologist

Shilla received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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Phoebe received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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Anna received treatment through FREED in Leeds. She shares her experiences of treatment and recovery in video form.

Read Share

A video overview of FREED – First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Sometimes. But if they don’t, the sooner you seek help, the easier it is to change and get on with your life. We encourage everyone with eating difficulties to seek help as soon as possible so you have the best chance of making a full recovery. Also, even if your difficulties eventually get better on their own, you may miss out on study, friendships and other opportunities while you are unwell. Seeking help can allow you to get better quicker.

"I didn't think before starting therapy that it would actually make a difference to my problems - it completely surpassed my expectations. I genuinely feel I have the tools to beat my eating disorder now."

FREED service user

"To recover you have got to be brave: it involves taking risks, and tolerating uncertainty and set-backs."

Ulrike Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Professor of Eating Disorders

Phoebe received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

It is hard to be worried about someone and not know how to help. See our answer to "What is an eating disorder" if you’re unsure whether your friend has an eating disorder or not. If you think they have a problem, you could direct them to this website or to Beat (the UK eating disorder charity). If you would like to express your concerns directly, read more for some tips on how to do this.

Before talking to your friend about your concerns it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:


“Am I the best person to approach them?”

This can be a difficult question to answer but it can make a very big difference to the person you’re worried about. You may decide that the person best placed to have the discussion with your friend is someone who they could feel more comfortable opening up to and sharing their feelings with. This could be a different friend, or someone in their family, or a teacher or work colleague. If so, consider approaching that person with your concerns instead. 


“Am I prepared?”

Prepare by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. Your friend may be feeling anxious or embarrassed. They may also become angry when asked about their eating. They may be in denial. Or they may not recognise that they have an eating problem. Importantly, these feelings do not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. In our experience, feelings of anger or hostility do not last. If you persist in a supportive way your friend is likely to appreciate your care.


“Where and when should I approach them?”

Approach your friend with compassion – sensitivity, understanding and care. It is best to speak to them where you can talk openly and calmly, without distractions or other people about. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted or have the conversation cut short. Avoid raising your concerns at a meal time.


“What should I say?”

It’s normal to feel unsure about what to say. Take some time to work through this in advance and make a plan.


It is helpful to remember that the person you are worried about is likely to be scared of talking about their behaviours or feelings. 


Actually, they may not even talk about them straight away. The key message to share is that you care about them, that you are worried about them, and that you want to help them. It can be helpful to have some specific examples of why you are worried and for these to not all be about food. For example, “I’m worried that you seem more unhappy lately. You also seem to avoid eating lunch with us and you seem more tired than usual. Is there anything that I can do to help?”.


It can help to practice what you’re going to say with a family member or friend. You might ask them to role-play different responses. This will allow you to practice staying calm and keeping the conversation focused.


“Who will support me?”

An important part of giving the best support is taking care of yourself. It is normal to feel stressed and emotional when you are worried about someone. It’s important to ensure that these feelings don’t get in the way of helpful support or impact your own health. You may want to reach out to a health professional, connect with another family member or friend, or contact a helpline. 

There are a number of resources available on the Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) website. 


"If you are a friend or family member and concerned…don’t sit in silence. Find a way to gently talk about your concerns."

Vicki Mountford, Clinical Psychologist

Alex’s story – Eating disorders aren’t just about food.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Worrying about your child is one of the hardest things about being a parent. See our answer to "What is an eating disorder" if you’re unsure whether your child has an eating disorder or not. If you think they have a problem, read more for some tips on how to approach them.

This information is mostly for parents of those aged 16 and over. If you have a younger child, we recommend speaking to your local Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder team for support. Your GP can help direct you.


Before talking to your child about your concerns it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:


“Am I the best person to approach them?”

This can be a difficult question to answer but it can make a very big difference to the person you’re worried about. You may decide that the person best placed to have the discussion with your child is someone who they could feel more comfortable opening up to and sharing their feelings with. This could be a different family member, or a close friend, or a teacher or work colleague or your GP. If so, consider approaching that person with your concerns instead. 


“Am I prepared?”

Prepare by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. Your child may be feeling anxious or embarrassed. They may also become angry when asked about their eating. They may be in denial. Or they may not recognise that they have an eating problem. Importantly, these feelings do not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. In our experience, feelings of anger or hostility do not last. If you persist in a supportive way your child is likely to appreciate your care.


“Where and when should I approach them?”

Approach the conversation with compassion – sensitivity, understanding and care. It is best to speak where you can talk openly and calmly, without distractions or other people about. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted or have the conversation cut short. Avoid raising your concerns at a meal time.


“What should I say?”

It’s normal to feel unsure about what to say. Take some time to work through this in advance and make a plan.


It is helpful to remember that the person you are worried about is likely to be scared of talking about their behaviours or feelings. Actually, they may not even talk about them straight away. The key message to share is that you care about them, that you are worried about them, and that you want to help them. It can be helpful to have some specific examples of why you are worried and for these to not all be about food. For example, “I’m worried that you seem more unhappy lately. You also seem to avoid eating dinner with us and you seem more tired than usual. Is there anything that I can do to help?”.


It can help to practice what you’re going to say with a family member or friend. You might ask them to role-play different responses. This will allow you to practice staying calm and keeping the conversation focused.


“Who will support me?”

An important part of giving the best support is taking care of yourself. It is normal to feel stressed and emotional when you are worried about someone. It’s important to ensure that these feelings don’t get in the way of helpful support or impact your own health. You may want to reach out to a health professional, connect with another family member or friend, or contact a helpline. There are a number of resources available on the Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) website. You could also look at the book “Skills-based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Model” by Janet Treasure, Grainee Smith & Anne Crane.



"If you are a friend or family member and concerned…don’t sit in silence. Find a way to gently talk about your concerns."

Vicki Mountford, Clinical Psychologist

"The FREED project was brilliant for Issy. There was a rapid response at a time when she was falling deeper into her illness. The programme was personalised with Issy at the centre. It focused on exactly what she needed at that time…and it helped us as family to help her in the best way we could."

Sarah, mother of FREED service user, Issy

Sarah is the mother of Issy, a young person who received treatment through FREED. Sarah shares her experiences of living with and supporting Issy as she accessed treatment.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

It is hard to be worried about someone and not know how to help. See our answer to "What is an eating disorder" if you're unsure whether your sibling has an eating disorder or not. If you think they have a problem, you could direct them to this website or to Beat (the UK eating disorder charity). If you would like to express your concerns directly, read more for some tips on how to do this.

Before talking to your brother or sister about your concerns it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

“Am I the best person to approach them?”

This can be a difficult question to answer but it can make a very big difference to the person you’re worried about. You may decide that the person best placed to have the discussion with your sibling is someone who they could feel more comfortable opening up to and sharing their feelings with. This could be one of your parents, a different family member, a friend, a teacher or work colleague. If so, consider approaching that person with your concerns instead. 


“Am I prepared?”

Prepare by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. Your sibling may be feeling anxious or embarrassed. They may also become angry when asked about their eating. They may be in denial. Or they may not recognise that they have an eating problem. Importantly, these feelings do not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. In our experience, feelings of anger or hostility do not last. If you persist in a supportive way your sibling is likely to appreciate your care.


“Where and when should I approach them?”

Approach your brother or sister with compassion – sensitivity, understanding and care. It is best to speak to them where you can talk openly and calmly, without distractions or other people about. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted or have the conversation cut short. Avoid raising your concerns at a meal time.


“What should I say?”

It’s normal to feel unsure about what to say. Take some time to work through this in advance and make a plan.


It is helpful to remember that the person you are worried about is likely to be scared of talking about their behaviours or feelings. Actually, they may not even talk about them straight away. The key message to share is that you care about them, that you are worried about them, and that you want to help them. It can be helpful to have some specific examples of why you are worried and for these to not all be about food. For example, “I’m worried that you seem more unhappy lately. You also seem to avoid going out for breakfast with me like we used to do. You seem more tired than usual. Is there anything that I can do to help?”.


It can help to practice what you’re going to say with a family member or friend. You might ask them to role-play different responses. This will allow you to practice staying calm and keeping the conversation focused.


“Who will support me?”

An important part of giving the best support is taking care of yourself. It is normal to feel stressed and emotional when you are worried about someone. It’s important to ensure that these feelings don’t get in the way of helpful support or impact your own health. You may want to reach out to a health professional, connect with another family member or friend, or contact a helpline. There are a number of resources available on the Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) website. You could also look at the book “Skills-based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Model” by Janet Treasure, Grainee Smith & Anne Crane.


"If you are a friend or family member and concerned…don’t sit in silence. Find a way to gently talk about your concerns."

Vicki Mountford, Clinical Psychologist

"The FREED project was brilliant for Issy. There was a rapid response at a time when she was falling deeper into her illness. The programme was personalised with Issy at the centre. It focused on exactly what she needed at that time…and it helped us as family to help her in the best way we could."

Sarah, mother of FREED service user, Issy

Sarah is the mother of Issy, a young person who received treatment through FREED. Sarah shares her experiences of living with and supporting Issy as she accessed treatment.

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What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Worrying about your partner is hard for you and your relationship. See our answer to “What is an eating disorder” if you’re unsure whether your partner has an eating disorder or not. If you think they have a problem, read more for some tips on how to approach them.

Before talking to your partner about your concerns it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:


“Am I the best person to approach them?”

This can be a difficult question to answer but it can make a very big difference to the person you’re worried about. You may decide that the person best placed to have the discussion with your partner is someone who they are more likely to open up to about eating or weight concerns or emotional difficulties. This could be a family member or a close friend. If so, consider approaching that person with your concerns instead. 


“Am I prepared?”

Prepare by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. Your partner may be feeling anxious or embarrassed. They may also become angry when asked about their eating. They may be in denial. Or they may not recognise that they have an eating problem. Importantly, these feelings do not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. In our experience, feelings of anger or hostility do not last. If you persist in a supportive way your partner is likely to appreciate your care.


“Where and when should I approach them?”

Approach the conversation with compassion – sensitivity, understanding and care. It is best to speak where you can talk openly and calmly, without distractions or other people about. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted or have the conversation cut short. Avoid raising your concerns at a meal time.


“What should I say?”

It’s normal to feel unsure about what to say. Take some time to work through this in advance and make a plan.


It is helpful to remember that the person you are worried about is likely to be scared of talking about their behaviours or feelings. Actually, they may not even talk about them straight away. The key message to share is that you care about them, that you are worried about them, and that you want to help them. It can be helpful to have some specific examples of why you are worried and for these to not all be about food. For example, “I’m worried that you seem more unhappy lately and are less interested in doing things as a couple. You also seem to avoid eating with me and you seem more tired than usual. Is there anything that I can do to help?”.


It can help to practice what you’re going to say with a family member or friend. You might ask them to role-play different responses. This will allow you to practice staying calm and keeping the conversation focused.


“Who will support me?”

An important part of giving the best support is taking care of yourself. It is normal to feel stressed and emotional when you are worried about someone. It’s important to ensure that these feelings don’t get in the way of helpful support or impact your own health. You may want to reach out to a health professional, connect with another family member or friend, or contact a helpline. There are a number of resources available on the Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) website. You could also look at the book “Skills-based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Model” by Janet Treasure, Grainee Smith & Anne Crane.


"If you are a friend or family member and concerned…don’t sit in silence. Find a way to gently talk about your concerns."

Vicki Mountford, Clinical Psychologist

Alex’s story – Eating disorders aren’t just about food.

Read Share

What's next?

Ask another question, or follow the link below to see options for help and support.

Teachers play a huge role in detecting eating disorders and can be wonderful sources of support for students. So, we are really glad you’re here.

Teachers and schools can help by providing a supportive, compassionate environment for students that encourages them to work hard, but not be unduly perfectionistic or hard on themselves if they don’t perform as well as they would like to. (We know this is difficult with the emphasis on exams and A levels.) Teaching students to be self-compassionate and helping them to talk about and manage their emotions is good for mental health generally. Teachers and schools can also model that body weight and shape are not the most important things, minimising discussions about physical appearance and encouraging healthy eating and activity at every size.

If you are worried that a student may have an eating disorder, see our answer to “What is an eating disorder”. You can also read more for tips on how to approach a student with your concerns.

Before talking to the student you are worried about, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:


“Am I the best person to approach them?”

This can be a difficult question to answer but it can make a very big difference to the person you’re worried about. You may decide that the person best placed to have the discussion with the student is a different teacher, their parent/s or another family member, or one of their friends. If so, consider approaching that person with your concerns instead. 


If can be difficult to contact a parent to say that you’re concerned about their child’s eating. However, parents are usually very grateful when teachers make contact. Often they are worried too and hearing from the school gives them the confidence they need to take action. 


“Am I prepared?”

Prepare by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. The student may be feeling anxious or embarrassed. They may also become angry when asked about their eating. They may be in denial. Or they may not recognise that they have an eating problem. Importantly, these feelings do not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. In our experience, feelings of anger or hostility do not last. If you persist in a supportive way, the young person is likely to appreciate your care.


“Where and when should I approach them?”

Approach the conversation with compassion – sensitivity, understanding and care. It is best to speak to them where you can talk openly and calmly, without distractions or other people about. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted or have the conversation cut short. Avoid raising your concerns at a meal time.


“What should I say?”

It’s normal to feel unsure about what to say. Take some time to work through this in advance and make a plan.


It is helpful to remember that the person you are worried about is likely to be scared of talking about their behaviours or feelings. Actually, they may not even talk about them straight away. The key message to share is that you care about them, that you are worried about them, and that you want to help them. It can be helpful to have some specific examples of why you are worried and for these to not all be about food. For example, “I’m worried that you seem more unhappy lately and you’re doing less well in class. You seem more tired than usual and I’ve noticed you’re often in the library at lunchtime instead of eating with your friends. Is there anything that I can do to help?”.


It can help to practice what you’re going to say with another teacher or friend. You might ask them to role-play different responses. This will allow you to practice staying calm and keeping the conversation focused.


“Who will support me?”

An important part of giving the best support is taking care of yourself. It is normal to feel stressed and emotional when you are worried about someone. Your school will have policies or systems to help you manage concerns about student wellbeing, so use these for your own support as well as the students. There are also a number of resources available on the Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) website. 


Seek support yourself if you need to, from a friend, family member or a health professional.


Alex’s story – Eating disorders aren’t just about food.

Read Share

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