“When I started on a specialist program for eating disorders, I finally felt that someone actually understood what I was experiencing.” – Sarah

Overview

An eating disorder is about much more than food – it is a mental illness. Relentless food thoughts and eating behaviours are symptoms of more complex issues. Your eating behaviours may have developed as a way of dealing with things in your life that feel out of control, or they may be a way of coping with troubling emotions.

Eating in the way your disorder compels you to can make you feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, and disgusted with yourself. Your underlying feelings about your eating may lead to you deny or disguise your behaviours to others, and also to yourself.

Having an eating disorder may make you feel like you have lost control of your body and your behaviours, but it may also be a way of feeling control over an aspect of your life. Either way, an eating disorder can become a key part of the way you see yourself and can take over your life.

An eating disorder can become all-consuming and may seem too big to deal with. But all eating disorders are treatable, and full recovery is possible at every age. It is important to remember that.

Seeking help is vital, and seeing a GP about your concerns can be a good first step. You may prefer to start by using the telephone and online supports provided through organisations like the Butterfly Foundation. We have resources below to help you get started.

Helping someone with an eating disorder

Eating disorders can be quite scary to observe in someone you care about because of the distress of seeing their body change and their self-destructive behaviours. You may not know what to do or say, but your support can make a big difference in their recovery.

Talk to the person openly and honestly, but avoid making any comments about how they look. Even well-meaning comments on their appearance can be taken the wrong way and set back the recovery process. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and listen without judgement. It is important to remember that nobody chooses to have an eating disorder, and parents are not to blame.

Eating disorders can have serious health consequences, so support the person you know in connecting with a health professional as soon as possible. 

Other helpful actions you can take include: learning more about eating disorders from the resources below, encouraging the person to stay connected with family and friends, and engaging them in enjoyable social activities that do not involve food or excessive physical activity.

Find out more about caring for someone with a mental health condition on our carers page.

Was this information helpful?

Thanks for your feedback. It’ll help us make Head to Health better.
Your anonymous feedback has been submitted. Please note: this is not a crisis support service. If you need help now, visit our crisis support page.
We’d love to know how we can improve Head to Health. Visit our feedback page to let us know how we can make your experience even better. Visit feedback page
Please note: this is not a crisis support service. If you need help now, visit our crisis support page.
We've already received your feedback for this page.
Please note: this is not a crisis support service. If you need help now, visit our crisis support page.
Page last updated 28th September 2017