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.
This page is made up of two sections.
About recovery on this page:
About self-care on this page:
Recovery means different things to different people.
It might mean that you never have thoughts or behaviours related to your eating problem again.
Or you might still experience thoughts and behaviours, but not as often. They might also have less impact on your life.
The way you perceive your relationship with food, and your views on recovery, might change over time.
You might sometimes 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.
Recovery can seem scary if you feel:
If you have tried to recover before, or have relapsed, you might start feeling like you're completely beyond help. But it is possible to feel better, even if it takes a long time.
For more information, see our page on treatment and support for eating problems.
"I started to use what I had been through to strengthen myself. I knew that I could be determined, motivated and achieve what I put my mind too. I wanted to flip the anorexic energy into the recovery process."
You may also find your body changes at a different rate to your mental health. As you start to look healthier, you may feel worse.
Other people may think you have recovered when you're still finding things very hard. It can help to keep talking about how you feel, with people you trust.
Watch Rose Ann read a letter to herself about recovery. This video is three minutes and 57 seconds long.
View video transcript as a PDF (opens in new window)
Not everyone around you will understand what it's like to have an eating problem. Some people may comment on your body, your weight, how much you eat or what you eat.
People might think they're saying something positive to help you. But they might not realise that it can 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. Describe to them what a more helpful or supportive response would be.
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 does not mean putting on weight for everybody. But for some people this is incredibly challenging to live with. Some people have found these tips have worked for them:
"I built myself a first aid kit of things I could turn too when I needed the encouragement to keep going. I put things in it like bucket lists, letters from those important to me, photos, future goals, phone numbers, achievements, sensory objects and distraction techniques."
There are certain times of year that might trigger difficult thoughts and behaviours. Often these are celebrations that revolve around food and eating with others, like Christmas and birthdays.
Eating problems can feel very difficult to talk about for many reasons. People close to you may find eating problems hard to understand, but will often want to help however they can.
The eating charity Beat has tips for talking to others about your eating problem.
If you are finding it hard to talk, try writing things down. For example. you might find writing a letter helps you set out your thoughts more clearly.
You might find it helpful to show people our pages about eating problems to help them learn more.
"You are always the most important person in your recovery. If you find positive relationships in others radiate off of these, laugh with them and mirror them."
Eating problems can make you feel ashamed, isolated and misunderstood. It can really help to talk to people who are going through something similar.
You can look for peer support online or face-to-face. These organisations can help you find peer support for eating problems:
See our pages on peer support for more information.
It's very common to go back to your old thoughts and behaviours. Especially around times when you feel stressed.
Try to identify situations when you might be more at risk of your eating problems returning. Some examples could be:
Think about your warning signs. Try to learn what you can do to prevent things from 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. Try to 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."
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."
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 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 January 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.