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.
Watch Rose Anne read a letter to herself about recovery.
Recovery means different things to different people. It might mean that you don't ever have an eating problem thought or behaviour again. Or it might mean you do still have them but they don't happen as often and they have less impact on your life.
Your thoughts about how you perceive your relationship with food, and whether you want to recover, might change over time too. At times you might feel that you don't have a problem, or that your behaviours are actually helpful to you. Your eating problem may feel comforting, safe or even exhilarating. And you may feel scared of the changes that come that will with recovery. For example you might feel:
Whatever recovery looks like to you, it can take a long time to get there – even when you feel ready to try. You may have to think in years rather than weeks and months. If you have tried to recover before, or have relapsed, you might start to feel as if you are completely beyond help. But it is possible to feel better, even if it takes a long time.
We hope that the information on this page, and our page treatment and support, will help you think about some positive steps you could take.
"It has taken me a long time to effect any change for the better in myself, and I am still a long, long way from where I want to be, but when I finally came to terms with the implications on my life of my condition I was able to start at least planning how to get better."
Eating problems can feel very difficult to talk about, for many reasons. But although people around you may find eating problems difficult to understand, they will usually want to help however they can.
If you are finding it hard to talk, you could try writing things down. Some people find that writing things in a letter for example can help get thoughts out more clearly. You might also find it helpful to show people our information about eating problems to help them understand more about them.
"Be open with the people closest to you; they may not completely understand, but they can help."
Because lots of people think that only young women get eating problems, you may find it more difficult to talk about your experiences if you are a man, or an older women. But lots of men and older women also have eating problems. Watch this documentary about men's experiences of eating problems.
Also you may find your body changes faster than your mental health. As you start to look healthier, you may feel worse. Other people may think you are recovered when actually you are still finding things very hard. Keeping up the conversation about how you're feeling, with people you trust, can help.
Eating problems can make you feel ashamed, isolated and misunderstood. It can really help to talk to people who understand. You can look for peer support online or face-to-face. These charities can help you find suitable peer support for people with eating problems:
(See our pages on peer support for more information and sources of support.)
It's very common to go back to old thoughts and behaviours, especially around times when you are very stressed. It can he helpful to identify times when you might be more at risk of your eating problems returning. They might be:
Think about your early warning signs and what you can do to help prevent things getting worse. Early warning signs could be:
Most people will have setbacks in their recovery. But after each setback you may find you understand more about yourself and your eating problem. It's important to try and be gentle with yourself and accept relapses as part of a long, but achievable, process of change.
"As long as I was still taking baby steps, i.e. occasionally trying a small piece of something new that wasn't too dissimilar to things I already ate, then I was still working towards better health."
Lots of people don't understand what it's like to have an eating problem. Some people may feel it's ok to comment on your body, your weight, or how much (and what) you are eating. They may think they are saying something positive, without realising that it might be difficult for you to hear. This can be really hard to cope with.
What helps or hurts is different for everyone. It might help to try and explain to family and friends how you feel and what a more helpful or supportive response would be. But you can't always stop people from saying unhelpful things. It could be a good idea to think about how you will deal with the things people might say.
"Often I am ashamed of admitting I have my disorder …because I am scared that people will not believe me or think it's serious, even though bulimia has dominated my life since age 15."
Recovery will not mean putting on weight for everybody. But for some people this is an incredibly difficult challenge to live with. Some people have found these tips have worked for them:
"Distractions after a meal are key for me! Going online, watching a movie, reading, working, etc."
Routines around eating and food can be hard to break. But you might find that making small changes can help. For example:
"I do better with buying food in single servings so I only have around what I’m intending to eat there and then."
There are certain times of year that might trigger difficult thoughts and behaviours. Often these are celebrations that tend to revolve around food and eating with others, like Christmas and birthdays.
If you are Muslim you may find that Ramadan causes conflicts between your faith and your eating problems and recovery. Some people find that fasting triggers thoughts and behaviours related to their eating problem, especially if they are praised for eating very little. Others find that eating with family and friends during iftar makes them feel out of control.
Although you may be excused from fasting if you have a medical problem, this may make you feel guilty. Other people may not understand why you are not fasting.
If you have an eating problem you may find that you spend a lot of time comparing your body to other people's, sometimes without even really realising you are doing it. We are often surrounded by pictures and images – especially on social media.
Be as kind to yourself as you can. Have a look at our information on:
"Be proud of yourself for the smallest steps you make because you're heading in the right direction. If you manage to put a tiny lump of cheese on top of your pasta, praise yourself. If you recognise you are having a bad day, accept it because it's all part of the process."
This information was published in June 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.