What's the difference between an eating problem and an eating disorder?

  • An eating problem is any kind of relationship with food that you are finding difficult.
  • An eating problem may be considered to be an eating disorder if your behaviour meets the medical criteria for a diagnosis. A doctor will look at your eating patterns to make a diagnosis. They may also measure your weight or body mass index (BMI), or take blood tests.
  • The most common types of eating disorder are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.  Depending on the type of eating disorder you might experience different feelings.  Some of these are listed below, but to find out more about these, along with other eating disorders click here

Bulimia Nervosa  

Feelings associated with Bulimia Nervosa can include

  • Feeling ashamed and guilty

  • Hating your body or thinking you are fat

  • Feeling scared of being found out by family and friends

  • Feeling depressed or anxious

  • Feeling lonely, especially if no one else knows about your eating problems

  • Feeling very low and upset

  • Feeling ike your mood changes quickly or suddenly

  • Feeling like you’re stuck in a cycle of feeling out of control and trying to get control back

  • Feeling numb, or like feelings are blocked out by bingeing or purging

Anorexia Nervosa

Feelings associated with Anorexia Nervosa can include

  • Feeling like you can’t think about anything other than food

  • Feeling like you want to disappear

  • Feeling like you have to be perfect

  • Feeling lonely, especially if no one knows about your eating problems

  • Feeling like eating is the same as losing control

  • Feeling like you are hiding things from your family and friends

  • Feeling anxious

  • Feeling like you are fat and your weight loss isn’t enough, even if other people think you are underweight

  • Feeling frightened of putting on weight

  • Feeling angry if someone challenges you

  • Feeling tired and disinterested in things

  • Feeling depressed

  • Feeling a high or sense of achievement from denying yourself food or over-exercising.

What can I do?

There are ways to help yourself cope with your own eating disorder alongside help from outside organisations.  Self-help treatments can prove to be really effective such as the ones listed below.

  • Peer support
  • Online peer support
  • Practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques
  • Learn to be kind to yourself
  • Take practical steps to change unhealthy routines

To find out more about these different techniques take a look at the Mind Website

Self help books have also been proven to be effective in treating eating disorders.  You can use these by yourself or with a friend or family member. They are generally written by medical experts but draw on the experience of people who have eating disorders. Click here for more information.

Hearing other people’s stories can also really help to remind you that you are not alone.  The NHS website provides useful videos and audio books which offer help and advice.

Where can I go for help?

As a school, we would always urge you to contact your GP if you are worried that you may have an eating disorder.  From here they will be able to carry out an assessment and point you in the right direction should you need to make contact with more specialist eating disorder services.

‘Talking treatments’ such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are generally considered to be the most effective way of treating eating disorders because they deal with the deeper emotional issues rather than simply with the obvious problems.

How can family and friends help?

You may feel very worried if you think that someone you care about has an eating problem. It may feel difficult to know how to talk to them about it. You might have already tried to offer support, but found that the person you’re worried about is unwilling or unable to accept help. This can make you feel powerless.

In fact there are lots of helpful things you can do:

  • One of the most important things you can do is let the person you’re worried about know that you’re there, you’re listening and that you can help them find support. Let the person know they can talk to you when they are ready.
  • Try not to make assumptions. People sometimes think that eating problems happen for certain reasons, like having been abused, or trying to stop the body developing during puberty or reasons to do with body image. If you interpret someone’s eating problems in a particular way, without really listening to the person themselves,  it could add to their feeling of being out of control. It could make them less able to share their emotions.
  • Understand that the person you’re worried about might not see their eating as a problem. They may actually view it as a solution to coping with feelings of rage, loss, powerlessness, self-hatred and guilt.
  • Don’t try to persuade the person to change their behaviour. This could make them feel under threat, and may make them hide their eating problem. For example, trying to persuade someone to gain weight may make them feel afraid that they will be forced to eat. This could make them withdraw from you or try to convince you they are eating even if they are not.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help, such as counselling or their GP. If they are worried about doing this, you could offer to go along with them.
  • Help the person find good information – this could include looking for online support while helping the person avoid websites or forums that could promote unsafe eating and exercise habits.
  • Include the person in social activities. If the person you are worried about finds it difficult to eat, organise activities which don’t include food.


Some of the main charities and organisations offering advice and support are listed below. 

Beat (Beating eating disorders) Helpline 0345 634 1414 Youthline 0345 634 7650

Mind Infoline t: 0300 123 3393 e: info@mind.org.uk w: mind.org.uk text: 86463

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC) t: 03000 11 12 13 w: anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk

National Centre for Eating Disorders  t: 0845 838 2040 w: eating-disorders.org.uk

Coming Clean My Eating Disorder Story & Overcoming It by Sarah Belle You Tube Video

Further resources can also be found on the Health and Wellbeing page of our website