Food and eating is a big part of our lives. It’s normal to think about what you are going to eat and change your eating habits occasionally. But if you are finding your relationship with food difficult, you may have an eating problem or disorder.
Eating disorders affect so many people, young and old. But they CAN be beaten. Life is so much better
What is an eating problem?
Lots of people have problems with eating but they do not have a diagnosed eating disorder. Both eating problems and eating disorders can be very upsetting and difficult to cope with.
You don’t need to be under or overweight to have an eating problem or a diagnosed disorder. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much you weigh or whether you are a girl or a boy.
Eating problems and disorders can be a way of coping with or disguising difficult emotions and feelings. A lot of people keep them hidden for a long time.
“I became cripplingly lonely at uni which caused me to stop eating and shut down.”
If you have an eating problem you might do some or all of these things.
- Eat or restrict food because of your emotions, rather than because you are hungry or full.
- Eat in secret or feel very out of control when you eat.
- Think about food and eating all (or most of) the time.
- Feel anxious or unhappy if you don’t stick to particular rules about eating.
- Do things to get rid of the food you eat (like exercising a lot or making yourself sick).
- Compare your body to other people’s or do tests and checks on your body.
“When something goes wrong, my first thought is to starve myself”
Eating problems and disorders can affect your life in lots of ways. You might feel lonely, anxious or ashamed. It might be difficult to eat with other people or enjoy a social life. You might find that your physical health is affected, your body doesn’t develop properly and you feel tired a lot.
If you are a woman you may find your periods stop or don’t start when they should.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis of a particular eating problem. You might be diagnosed by a doctor or a psychiatrist. These are the most common eating disorders.
- Bulimia nervosa. If you have bulimia nervosa you binge (eat lots of food at once) and then purge (try and get rid of the food you have eaten). You might do this every so often or go through days where you do it a lot. You might find you binge when you are feeling upset or worried rather than because you are hungry. Your weight might stay the same or it might go up and down. Bulimia can affect your physical health. It can make you dehydrated and affect your teeth, throat, bowel and eyes.
- Anorexia nervosa. If you have anorexia nervosa, you will not eat enough food to stay healthy. You might also do things to get rid of any food you do eat. You will lose a lot of weight but feel as if you always need to lose more. You might have strict rules around food and eating and feel very anxious if you have to break those rules. Anorexia also affects your physical health. It can make you feel tired, cold and affect your concentration. Your bones may become weak and your hair might fall out.
“It’s funny how people think an eating disorder is a choice. It’s a little voice telling you you’re fat, you need to lose weight, and noone will love you unless you’re skinny”
- Binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is sometimes called ‘compulsive eating’. If you have binge eating disorder, you feel out of control and unable to stop eating. You might eat a lot at once or keep eating food all day. You might eat to make you feel better, or when you are bored. People with binge eating disorder are often overweight - but not always.
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). If you have OSFED, you have an eating disorder that does not fit into any other categories. You might experience a mix of the behaviours, emotions and body changes related to other diagnosis.
How can I get help for an eating problem or an eating disorder?
If food and eating is affecting your life then it is ok to seek help. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or whether you have an official diagnosis. But it isn’t always easy to choose to seek help for an eating problem or disorder. You might find it comforting or be worried about losing control.
The earlier you get help for an eating problem or disorder, the more likely you are to be able to recover.
The best way to get help is to visit your GP. It can be scary but they can help you get more support.
You might also find it helpful to have a look at our useful info section below.
How can I help my friend?
If you are worried that your friend might have an eating problem or disorder, here are some things you can do to help.
- Be there for them and let them know that you are there if they want to talk.
- Be patient. It can be upsetting to see someone you love dealing with an eating problem. But if you show your frustration, upset or anger, they may be less likely to talk to you in the future.
- Don’t try and persuade them to eat - or stop eating. This might make them lie to you about their behaviour in the future.
- Talk to someone you trust about your worries.
- Have a look at our useful info section to find out more.
BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.
This factfile was last updated on 22nd June 2017