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.
An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis based on your eating patterns. It involves medical tests on your weight, blood and body mass index (BMI).
An eating problem means any relationship with food that you find difficult. Not every eating problem will be diagnosed as a disorder.
Eating disorders are a diagnosed type of eating problem.
Food is one of the many mediums through which our emotions and distress can be expressed.
Understanding feelings and behaviours linked to certain eating disorders can be helpful. This is true even if you don't have a diagnosis. Or, if you prefer to consider your experiences in a non-medical way.
There can be complications in getting a formal diagnosis:
If you get a bulimia diagnosis (known as bulimia nervosa), you may experience a cycle of what's called bingeing and purging.
If you experience bulimia, you might feel:
If you experience bulimia, you might:
While experiencing bulimia, you might:
If you get an anorexia diagnosis (known as anorexia nervosa), you’re not eating enough food. This means you're not getting the energy you need to stay healthy.
Some people think anorexia is about slimming and dieting, but it's much more complex. At its core, it's often connected to low self-esteem, negative self-image and feelings of intense distress.
If you experience anorexia, you might feel:
If you experience anorexia, you might:
“I started starving myself as a means of control. Everything else had been taken out of my control, but no one could force me to eat. I'd enjoy and crave the feeling of my stomach being... empty.”
While experiencing anorexia, you might:
If you get a diagnosis for binge eating disorder, you might feel unable to stop eating, even if you want to.
With binge eating disorder, you might rely on food to make you feel better. You might also use food to hide difficult feelings. It is sometimes described as 'compulsive eating'.
If you experience binge eating disorder, you might feel:
If you experience binge eating disorder, you might:
“I dread any event with a buffet. Because I know I'll eat and I'll keep eating and I won't even enjoy it but I'll eat because I feel somehow I have to. I'll eat even when I'm feeling full, when I'm feeling bloated, feeling pain in my gut, feeling sick.”
While experiencing binge eating disorder, you might:
“The first GP I told was clueless. But another GP encouraged me to tell her more, and I learnt about the help I could get.”
If you get an OSFED diagnosis, you have an eating disorder. However, you don't meet all the criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
This doesn't mean that your eating disorder is less serious.
OSFED just means that your disorder doesn't fit into current diagnoses. Getting a diagnosis of OSFED can help you access treatment and support.
You can experience any feelings, actions or body changes linked to other eating disorders.
Previously, OSFED was known as ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS).
For more details, see Beat's information about OSFED.
“I was assessed by my local eating disorder service and was given a diagnosis of EDNOS. I managed to get my eating back on track. I continue to work on the feelings with the help of my therapist and am very much in recovery.”
Diabulimia is something that can affect people with type 1 diabetes. It is a term for when you deliberately restrict or stop taking your insulin to control how many calories your body absorbs from food.
‘Diabulimia’ is not a formal medical diagnosis, so your doctor might not know about it. But it is a term that some people with type 1 diabetes use to describe this experience.
Some people also use the term ‘T1ED’ or 'T1DE', which is short for ‘type 1 diabetes with an eating disorder’. You may hear this used to describe living with type 1 diabetes and experiencing an eating disorder, including restricting your insulin.
If you get a diagnosis of rumination disorder, you'll regularly regurgitate your food. Regurgitating means bringing food back up that you've already eaten and swallowed.
You won't have a physical health problem to explain it. You might re-chew, re-swallow or spit out the food you regurgitate.
For more details, see Beat's information about rumination disorder.
If you get a diagnosis of pica, you'll often eat things that aren't food.
The things you eat tend to have no nutritional value. Some examples may be chalk, metal or paint. This can be very damaging to your body.
For more details, see Beat's information about pica.
If you get a diagnosis of ARFID, you'll strongly feel the need to avoid certain foods (or all foods). This might be because of smell, taste or texture. The idea of eating may fill you with anxiety.
ARFID does not tend to be linked to body image issues. It's more anxiety about the process of eating itself.
For more details, see Beat's information about ARFID.
“My eating disorder has never been about body image or control, and I've had it for as long as I can remember. When I'm faced with certain foods I feel a reaction in the pit of my stomach like someone has put a plate of the most disgusting things in front of me. I can only equate the sensation to walking past an open sewer.”
This information was published in January 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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