Too young for an eating disorder?

With a recent boom of photoshopped images of 6 ft perfect models spiralling the internet, it is likely to influence the way that we think about ourselves and our own appearance, but from how young are people experiencing this body dysmorphia and how early on is this affecting their eating?


Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially, and are noticeably affecting much younger people in particular female, with social media playing a large role in this. The most common eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder.  An eating disorders accompany behaviours such as restricted eating, binge eating, excessive exercise, vomiting and laxative use, which in turn often lead to other health problems. Although there are many physical problems which can occur with an eating disorder, the psychological effect is not often considered as much. It can cause substantial psychological consequences for example a low mood, low self esteem, suicidal ideation and behaviour, social withdrawal, irritability, increased anxiety and rigidity of thinking.


Treatment for eating disorders is available but it is important to make sure that the person affected wants to get better, and the support of family and friends is invaluable.

Treatment available 

  • self-help manuals and books,
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (changing how a person thinks about a situation which will change how they act)
  • interpersonal psychotherapy (focuses on relationship-based issues)
  • dietary counselling
  • psychodynamic therapy or cognitive analytic therapy (focuses on how a person’s personality and life experiences influence their current thoughts, feelings, relationships and behaviour)
  • family therapy
  • medication, for example a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be used to treat bulimia nervosa or binge eating

Eating disorders are becoming much more common in this time and it is important of us not to turn a blind eye to this issue and to not underestimate the seriousness of it, and to seek a professionalshelp when needed.


With the aim to diagnose, treat and help people, there is evidence to show that ‘overdiagnosis’ plays a much larger role in this than it should. Overdiagnosis is when a person is labelled or treated for a disease however the disease would not actually cause them significant harm and can lead to the overuse of further tests and treatment.

For example over 500 000 people are estimated to have received overdiagnosis for thyroid cancer across 12 countries in the last 20 years. This leads them to often having surgery and lifelong medication which is not actually needed in the first place.

Some of the key points to do with over diagnosis include:

  • Interest is growing in tackling the problems of overdiagnosis and over treatment
  • Possible drivers and potential solutions arise across five inter- related domains: culture, the health system, industry and technology, healthcare professionals, and patients and the public
  • More work is needed to develop and evaluate interventions aimed at preventing overdiagnosis
  • Raising public awareness of overdiagnosis is a priority

-BMJ 23rd September 2017, 358:421-462 No 8122 / CR ISSN 0959-8138

A main reason for this overdiagnosis is that there are many fears of uncertainty, ageing, death and disease, and in many cultures people believe that in healthcare ‘more is better’, when this is not necessarily always the case.

Possible solutions for this include public awareness and education campaigns to challenge this common belief in healthcare that ‘more is better’. Another possible solution for this is through bringing in incentives for medical professionals to be rewarded based on the quality of their care rather than the quantity of their care.

I understand that the intentions of medical proffessionals are to do what is best for us and that we are brought up in a culture which believes that doing ‘something’ in healthcare is better than doing ‘nothing’, and in the majority of cases this is true. However I also think that it is important that this issue of overdiagnosis is addressed and people are made aware of it so that they can be cautious of the medical treatment that they do received and are fully informed on the extent to which their conditions need to be treated.