Susan Ringwood on eating disorders

EATING disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting 1.6 million people in the UK. They can develop when controlling food is used as a way of dealing with difficult feelings a person may have. This can be because the feelings are too painful to deal with directly. Eating disorders aren't just "phases" people go through; nor are they about attention seeking.

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age, sex, cultural or racial background. The people most likely to be affected are young women between the ages of 12 and 25, but it is not unusual for an eating disorder to appear in middle age.

Research is helping to identify the causes, and it is already known that it takes a combination of hard-wired factors such as genetics, brain chemistry and personality type interacting with the social and cultural environment. This research is also helping to ascertain which treatments are most effective, and has shown that getting specialist help quickly is very important to ensure people make a full recovery.


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I'm 18 and think I may have anorexia. Food is constantly on my mind, I have an intense fear of gaining weight and I have to exercise daily. I don't want things to carry on as they are and wondered what help is available to me.

Your doctor is the gateway to NHS services and will often refer patients for professional help and treatment such as counselling.

It's really important to remember that this is not your fault and you deserve support to overcome it. Sometimes, people think they don't deserve help and that they should be able to manage on their own, but no-one should be alone with their eating difficulties, and seeking professional support is an important step in the recovery process. You may also find it useful to speak to a family member, friend, work colleague or college/university tutor. You could also look at the beat website (www. for more information and suggestions. Remember to be kind to yourself.


My boyfriend told me he has an eating disorder. He regularly binges on food then feels guilty afterwards, which leads to him making himself vomit. I'm really worried about him and I'm not sure what I can do. Please give me some advice on how I can help him?

Encourage your boyfriend to seek professional help through his doctor, and/or talk to his parents or tutor about his eating difficulties. You are being a great support by being there for him and listening. Remember this is important to him finding the courage to seek help. You may want to encourage him to contact beat, where he can access the youth services, which will offer him support and provide a listening ear. Remember that only your boyfriend can take responsibility for getting better. By giving your support and encouragement, you are doing all you can.


My eating is completely out of control. I binge on food every day until my stomach hurts. I feel completely alone, ashamed and embarrassed by my behaviour but I can't resist the urge to binge. I'm spending so much money on food and isolating myself from other people. Please help.

It sounds as though you are very unhappy and are using food to try to cope with these difficult thoughts and feelings. You may also be feeling out of control, as you mention the negative effect this is having on your life and your relationships. No one deserves to struggle alone with these feelings, and contacting your doctor would be a good place to start. Your doctor can refer for specialist help.

Look at the beat helpfinder to find a counsellor ( You may be able to pinpoint a group in your area for some support.

Susan Ringwood is chief executive of beat, a UK charity for people with eating disorders and their families.

• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday on 20 June.