An eating disorder is when you develop an unhealthy relationship with food, which can dominate your life and affect your physical and mental health.

This could relate to eating too much or too little, becoming obsessed with your weight or body shape, or over-exercising.

Eating disorders can be serious and life-threatening conditions – and it can be hard to recover on your own. Treatment and professional support are vital.

For some people, their behaviour around food can be used to cope with painful emotions or to take control of their lives.

Counselling can provide a place to talk about these emotions and can also be helpful in changing thoughts and unhealthy behaviours.

“Having access to early support is vital,” says our member Susie Pinchin, who has experience working with people with eating disorders.

“A counsellor can help you open up about your feelings.

“Counselling can give you a chance of controlling the eating disorder, rather than it controlling you.”

How do you know if you have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can affect men and women of any age. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of eating disorder you have and for each individual.

Common signs of eating disorders include:

  • being preoccupied with your weight or body shape
  • eating very little food or skipping meals
  • binge-eating
  • making yourself sick
  • exercising too much

You may avoid socialising if food is involved or have particular food rituals – such as cutting food into very small pieces or eating very slowly.

Physical warning signs include:

  • noticeable changes in weight
  • dizziness
  • feeling cold
  • problems sleeping
  • digestive problems such as stomach cramps
  • dry skin, hair and brittle nails
  • for women and girls - periods become irregular or stop

How to get help for an eating disorder

“The earlier you can get access to support, the better your chance of recovery,” says Susie, who works in schools and private practice in Suffolk and Surrey.

Admitting you have an eating disorder and asking for help is a big step, which can be very difficult for some people.

If you think you have an eating disorder, see your GP. They can refer you to a specialist who will be responsible for your care. Most people are offered therapy as part of a support package.

You can also look for a private therapist. But counselling for eating disorders is complex so make sure the therapist has specialist experience and training.  

How therapy can help

“Access to counselling is really important,” says Susie.

“It gives you a safe space to explore your feelings and understand the underlying causes of your eating disorder.

“For some people, their eating habits are the only things they feel they have control over.

“A counsellor can help you take control of your eating disorder.”

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