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


An eating disorder is about much more than food; it is a mental illness. Unhealthy eating behaviours and relentless thoughts about food 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, ashamed, and disgusted. Your hidden feelings about your eating may lead you to deny your behaviours, or hide them from yourself and others.

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.

An eating disorder can take over your life, and it may seem too big to deal with. But it is important to remember that all eating disorders can be treated, and full recovery is possible at every age.

Seeking help is vital. Seeing a GP about your concerns can be a good first step. You may prefer to start by using the telephone and online support services offered 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.

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Page last updated 11th July 2019