Learn about eating problems, including possible causes, symptoms and how to access treatment and support. Includes self-care tips for helping yourself, plus guidance for friends and family.
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An eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult.
Many people think that someone with an eating problem will be over or underweight. People might also think that certain weights are linked to certain eating problems. Neither of these points are true.
Anyone can experience eating problems. This is regardless of age, gender, weight or background.
Food plays a significant part in our lives. Most of us will spend time thinking about what we eat. Sometimes you might:
Changing your eating habits like this every now and again is normal.
But if you feel like food and eating is taking over your life, it may become a problem.
Watch Shaista, Dave, Lilith and Olivia talk about their eating problems. They discuss their experiences of eating disorders such as anorexia, restrictive eating, bingeing and purging. This video is seven minutes and 16 seconds long.
View video transcript as a PDF (opens in new window)
If you have an eating problem, you might be familiar with some of the following behaviours.
"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. You may be finding these hard to express, face or resolve.
Focusing on food can be a way of hiding these feelings and problems, even from yourself. Eating problems can affect you in lots of ways.
You might feel:
You might find that:
With friends, family or other people, you might feel that:
"I wish people would move away from stereotypes and understand that eating disorders are not only to do with weight, but thoughts, feelings and behaviours – regardless of the number a scale shows, and regardless of physical appearance."
As it may feel like part of your everyday life, you might be unsure if your issue with food and eating is a problem. But if your relationship with food and eating is affecting your life, you can seek help. It doesn't matter how much you weigh or what your body looks like.
Some people don't seek help because they think their problem is not serious enough. Sometimes they do not feel ‘ill enough’ to have an eating problem.
It's also possible to have problems with eating and keep them hidden. Sometimes this can be for very long time.
"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."
Many people with eating problems also have other mental health problems. Some common experiences include:
Food is one of many mediums through which anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviours can be expressed.
"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 January 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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