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Explains eating problems, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
An eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult.
Food plays an important part in our lives and most of us will spend time thinking about what we eat. Sometimes we may try to eat more healthily, have cravings, eat more than usual or lose our appetite. Changing your eating habits every now and again is normal.
But if food and eating feels like it's taking over your life then it may become a problem.
Lots of people think that if you have an eating problem you will be overweight or underweight, and that being a certain weight is always associated with a specific eating problem. This is a myth. Anyone, regardless of age, gender or weight, can be affected by eating problems.
Watch Shaista, Dave, Lilith and Olivia talk about their experience of eating problems.
There are lots of different ways that an eating problem can affect how you feel or behave, especially the way you eat and how you think about food. We have listed some examples below.
If you have an eating problem you might:
"Food was like poison to me. It resembled all the negativity in my life. It made me feel weighed down by impurity, dirtiness, ugliness and selfishness. My body shape made me miserable and I spent all day everyday thinking about how great life would be if I was skinny."
Eating problems are not just about food. They can be about difficult things and painful feelings, which you may be finding hard to express, face or resolve. Focusing on food can be a way of disguising these problems, even from yourself.
Eating problems can affect you in lots of ways. You might:
You might find that other people focus a lot on the effect eating problems can have on your body, or that they only think you have a problem if your body looks different to how they think it should be, and that they don’t really understand how complicated things are for you.
It's also possible to have problems with eating and keep them hidden – sometimes for very long time. You might not even be sure that your issues with food and eating are a ‘problem’, as it may feel like just part of your everyday life. Some people don't seek help because they think their problem is not serious enough or they are not 'good enough' at their eating problem.
But if your relationship with food and eating is affecting your life, it is ok to seek help. It doesn't matter how much you weigh or what your body looks like.
"I never looked ‘ill’. When I read about eating disorders it was always girls with acute anorexia. Because that wasn’t me, I felt like my behaviour was just a bizarre quirk I’d made up. Ironically, it felt like I couldn’t even do self-destruction properly… I felt like a fraud and came down on myself harder."
Lots of people with eating problems also have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders. Food is one of many mediums through which anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviours can be expressed. Body dysmorphic disorder is an anxiety disorder linked to body image, which can also lead to eating problems.
For some people, eating problems are linked to self-harm – you may see your eating problem as a form of self-harm, and you may hurt yourself in other ways too. For others they're related to body image and self-esteem. And for others eating problems can be more like a phobia of certain foods.
"My eating disorder has always gone hand in hand with depression and anxiety in such a way that they haven't felt like distinct, discrete illnesses but like one issue."
This information was published in June 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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