Seeking support for disordered eating

It can feel really scary and isolating to realise that you're struggling with some sort of disordered eating. Whether it be noticing yourself carrying a lot of guilt and shame about food, abiding by lots of 'food rules', feeling the need to compensate for food by using exercise or other methods, or using food as a way to cope with negative emotions. It can be helpful to consider disordered eating as a spectrum - it looks and feels different for each individual. It's important for you to recognise that the issue doesn't need to be a diagnosed eating disorder for you to seek (and deserve to receive) help.

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What is disordered eating?

Disordered eating essentially means that you struggle with your relationship with food. It indicates an often unhappy, negative and challenging relationship where you feel as though food controls you rather than the other way around. It's a relationship which lacks freedom, and guilt-free enjoyment and tends to focus on calories and 'good versus bad' food.

It's (sadly) a very common issue for many of us, given how much of an impact diet culture has on the world. You may have followed quick fix/yoyo diets, been a victim of social media adverts for weight loss teas/pills/magic or simply grew up in a house with a lot of food rules and myths.

Do you recognise any of these thoughts?

  • "I'll skip breakfast/lunch because I'm going out for dinner later."
  • "Which drink is lowest in calories?" (Rather than picking your favourite drink)
  • "I feel fat." (Fat is not a feeling, it's a food group)
  • "They have lost weight... therefore, they must be happy."
  • "I feel sad/angry/frustrated/fearful so I'll order XYZ."
  • "I'd be happier if I looked like them."
  • "I'd be happier if I weighed the same as in my 20s."
  • "I've got XYZ event next week so I'll skip lunches until then."
  • "I feel like I'm constantly failing at diets."
  • "I feel stuck and as if I can never make any sustainable changes."
  • "I feel as though my weight changes as soon as I eat something 'bad'."
  • "If I buy biscuits, I'll eat them all. I don't have any self-control."
  • "If I order a pizza I'll feel guilty all weekend."
  • "I'll choose diet Coke instead of regular Coke because it's 0 calories."

It's important to remember that it's never just about the food itself. There will always be something underlying that needs to be addressed too; a root cause issue that needs identifying and exploring. This might be related to body image, control, shame, fear, trauma or loss. Whatever it is, disordered eating doesn't need to rule your life, and it certainly doesn't need to control your food choices anymore.

Therapy with someone who understands the underlying psychological impact and turmoil of disordered eating can support you in finding deserved freedom, peace and happiness when it comes to your relationship with food and your body. This goes for anyone, even if you feel that you've spent a lifetime stuck in diets and diet culture.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1U & SE13
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Written by Beth Hawley, MBACP
London W1U & SE13

Beth is an integrative therapist working in Brighton, London and online via zoom. Beth specialises in working with clients suffering from eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, substance abuse and unprocessed trauma.

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