Eating Problems

Eating Problems


Stories about dieting and weight sell magazines.  The fashion industry uses often painfully thin models, both male and female, to display the latest clothes.  The media constantly bombard us with images of celebrities who are apparently very thin. Being thin is equated with being desirable and successful.
Digital imaging techniques mean that images of models and celebrities can be produced where they are shown as glamorous, and ‘perfect’.  These images are often also distorted, and it is easy to forget that in real life these people don't actually look as perfect or glamorous as their photos appear.
So it is not surprising that, when there are life experiences which cause distress, one way of making things better can seem to be to take control of what you eat.  But if, in doing this, you lose sight of what your body needs to be strong and healthy, then the ‘solution’ itself can have distressing consequences.

Commonly Experienced Eating Problems

There are three commonly experienced eating problems that often have overlaps between them.

  • Compulsive Eating
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Anorexia Nervosa

Whatever form the eating disorder itself takes, it is usually a symptom of an underlying emotional or psychological issue. The underlying issues are not necessarily unusual or traumatic incidents in themselves, but may be fairly commonly experienced problems that have built up over a period of time, and have become hard to deal with.  The eating disorder becomes one way to cope.

Compulsive Eating
This is where a person finds they have irresistible urges to binge. Often after a binge they might feel overwhelmed by feelings of self-disgust or shame. The binge may follow a period where a rigid dieting regime has been put in place. Thus a diet-binge cycle may ensue. The dieter is often concerned with body size that may fluctuate. Someone who compulsively eats may appear or feel overweight. Eating is often not in response to physical hunger pangs. The eater feels out of control around food. The desire to binge seems to take over and overpower any will to diet and lose weight.

Bulimia Nervosa
This is a cycle of overeating followed by self-induced vomiting or purging with laxatives or fasting. The eating disorder is often kept secret. The sufferers binge or purge alone and appear normal in body size. Those experiencing bulimia are constantly preoccupied with food and body size. They may have lists of high calorie or high carbohydrate foods that are self-forbidden, but these foods become binge products. The disorder is often characterised by secrecy, shame and guilt until help is sought and recovery begins. Sufferers from bulimia may experience one or more of the following:

  • Damage to kidneys
  • Swollen salivary glands 
  • Damage to stomach and oesophagus
  • Loss of body fluids
  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Fainting spells
  • Fits and irregular heart beats.

The binge seems an automatic response to emotional pain. Often the person feels out of control and unable to resist the desire to binge.

Anorexia Nervosa
Those who experience anorexia may be totally obsessed with food yet diet stringently and deny themselves healthy meals. They are constantly dieting or exercising to lose weight. The most commonly affected are young women in education aged 15-25. Although they may appear very underweight, they will feel fat. Anorexia can be life-threatening - some women starve themselves to death. Sufferers often feel low self-esteem and may vomit or purge themselves of food with laxatives. Women anorexics will sometimes suffer a loss of menstrual periods when their weight falls below a certain level.

Sufferers may feel terribly isolated and may experience the effects of starvation including:

  • sleep disturbance
  • reduced mental ability
  • excess hair growth on body
  • poor circulation
  • feeling excessively cold
  • fatigue
  • dizzy spells
  • thin bones possibly leading to deformity or
  • osteoporosis
  • stunted growth
  • digestive tract dysfunction

Possible Ways to Help Yourself

.Begin to keep a personal diary - write down feelings and thoughts, stick in photos, draw pictures or diagrams, write lists,  - there are no rules about how you have to use the space.

Keeping a food diary can be helpful in seeing patterns in when and why you eat, as well as what you eat.

Think about what food represents to you - is it a response to emotional pain or worry about what is happening in your life? Could you think of other ways to help that?

Your eating disorder has enabled you to cope with difficult circumstances.  But perhaps now is the time to see if you can come up with other coping strategies which are less harmful to you.

Learn more about this eating disorder, so that you can understand better what is happening.  .Buy a self-help book. Research has proved self-help books can be enormously effective. Some are listed at the bottom of this page.

Do not overly criticise or judge yourself harshly. Over zealous self-criticism will drive the compulsion of the eating disorder. Be kinder to yourself, like you would be to a friend who was suffering.

 Books and further information
Anorexia Nervosa’ by Janet Treasure

Overcoming Anorexia Nervosa by C. Freeman and P Cooper

Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating by Peter Cooper

Overcoming binge eating by Chris Fairburn

Getting Better Bite by Bite - A survival kit for sufferers of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders
by J.Treasure & U.Schmidt

Eating your Heart Out by Julia Buckroyd

Anorexia Nervosa - A Guide For Sufferers and Their Families by R.L. Palmer

The National Eating Disorders Association has a helpful website:

BREaD offers local support for sufferers and their supporters:

Further Help
If you would like to talk about your eating problem you can contact the Student Counselling Service. In one-to-one counselling you can explore and learn to understand the underlying issues in a safe, confidential environment.  You can begin to develop different coping strategies, and learn to manage the obsession with food and body image that might seem to have taken over your life.

If you are supporting someone with an eating problem and would like to talk about its impact on you, you can also contact the Student Counselling Service.  It is not easy supporting someone with an eating problem, it can be very upsetting and draining, especially when whatever you try to say or do doesn’t seem to help very much.

If you think it would help to talk to a counsellor, contact the Student Counselling Service

01905 855107/ 855417