Those who develop eating problems can have a distorted relationship with food. This can develop as a way for you to try and cope with another underlying problem, such as anxiety, emotional distress, or feeling like you have lost control over one or more areas of your life. This can also lead to your attitude towards food - and how you see yourself - becoming skewered. Over time, your thoughts can become focused on food, how it makes you feel, what or how much you are eating, and what you do after you have eaten.
Experiencing problems with eating can present in many different ways. For some, this could involve eating less than they need for their body to have enough energy to function properly. For others, it can involve eating more than they need over a short or long period of time, and may or may not involve making themselves be sick afterwards to ‘purge’ what they have been eating. You may even struggle with food types, variety, textures of smells which, while often dismissed as ‘fussy eating’, can have a significant impact on your diet and overall well-being.
There is no single look when it comes to problem eating. While some may become preoccupied with their bodies, how they look, or their weight, others may focus on how eating makes them feel: whether that’s giving them a sense of control, helping them to numb other feelings, creating a temporary feeling of comfort or happiness.
A major part of recovery is getting sufferers to love themselves again. Learning new lines of thinking about eating will also improve a person’s relationship with food.
- Read hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi's article, 'How hypnosis can help your eating disorder'.
Anyone can develop an eating problem at any stage of their lives, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. Feelings of guilt, shame, or even denying that you have a problem are common reactions but know that help is available.
Do I have an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are serious conditions, where an unhealthy attitude towards food can take over your life and affect your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. While most commonly affecting young women aged 13 to 17, they can affect anyone, at any time. Seeking early intervention and diagnosis can significantly increase your chance of recovery.
Common eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa - restricting how much you eat to keep your weight as low as possible. This is also often accompanied by exercising too much.
- Bulimia - eating a lot of food in a short time (binging) and then making yourself get rid of (purge) that by being sick or using laxatives. This can also be accompanied by over-exercising.
- Binge eating - eating large portions of food at one time until you feel uncomfortably or painfully full. This can often be followed by feelings of guilt, upset, or shame.
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) - the general term used to refer to those whose eating disorder doesn’t fully match anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. While not as explicitly outlined, it is just as serious of a condition.
If you are worried that you or someone you love may have an eating disorder, it’s very important to seek help and an official diagnosis. To find out more about the signs and symptoms of specific eating disorders, visit the NHS website.
Whether you are sure you have an eating disorder or are worried that you may be experiencing problems with eating, speak with your GP. They will be able to help identify unhealthy eating habits, check your overall health, weight, and well-being, as well as being able to refer you to specific specialist services and support.
You can also speak confidentially with someone from eating disorder charity Beat on their Helpline, Youthline, or Studentline.
Understanding eating problems
Getting to better understand eating problems can be tricky. There’s no getting away from it: food is something we encounter every day. We need it to survive. Many of us, however, have a complicated relationship with food. When this relationship becomes distorted, how we interact with food can turn into an unhealthy coping mechanism that we use to deal with difficult, upsetting, or troubling emotions or situations.
Developing a problem with eating can mean that you think about food differently from other people. This can lead you to think about yourself, eating, or food in general to how others may, which can change how you behave with food. The reasons why some of us develop a complex relationship with food and some people don't aren’t always understood.
Contributing factors can include poor self-esteem, an increased need for control, or a desire to numb difficult emotions. Other influences range from genetics to societal pressure and personality type.
If you’re worried about your relationship with food, you may feel worried about seeking support. Try speaking to someone you trust. If you feel unable to speak with someone you know and love, talking with a helpline may be a useful option. Once you have spoken to someone, speaking up and asking for help can feel a lot less intimidating. If you’re worried about someone else, be supportive, offer them space to talk and try to encourage them to seek professional support.
If you are worried that your eating problem may be an eating disorder, treatments like counselling are often recommended and can be very effective. Everyone is different however and for some people, a different, or even a multi-pronged, approach is needed.
Signs and symptoms of problem eating
There can be a number of different signs that you (or someone you care about) may have an eating problem. Signs that you should look out for include:
- Spending a lot of time worrying about your weight, body shape, size, or appearance.
- Changing social plans or avoiding situations where food might be involved.
- Restricting what or how much you eat (eg, cutting out certain ‘bad’ food groups, or sticking to a very low number of calories).
- Making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat (whether you have eaten a little, or felt like you have over-eaten or ‘binged’).
- Exercising excessively (number of sessions or intensity).
- Having very strict habits or routines about food.
- Significant changes in your weight (increase or decrease).
- Mood swings.
- Feeling cold, tired, or dizzy.
- Your periods have stopped or become infrequent.
If you are worried about a loved one, warning signs that they might be struggling with food-related issues can include:
- Noticing a dramatic change in weight.
- Avoiding situations where they may have to eat in front of others, or frequently giving excuses to not eat.
- Lying about what or how much they have eaten.
- Eating a lot of food in a short space of time.
- Making trips to the bathroom shortly after eating (particularly if they seem flushed or red in the face).
- They have developed an obsession with exercising.
- They seem to eat very slowly, cut their food into small pieces, or try to hide food instead of eating it.
- Wearing clothing that is much looser or baggier than is normal to hide their frame.
Seeking help for eating problems
Eating problems can lead to serious conditions and may have a significant impact on your health and well-being. Ensuring you seek help as soon as possible is important to maximise your chances of making positive changes, seeking treatment, and gaining help.
If you are worried that you may have an eating disorder rather than an eating problem, it’s really important to speak with your GP. They will be able to help you gain specialist support and guidance tailored to your specific circumstances and situation.
If you are experiencing eating-related problems, there are many different approaches that may be able to help you, including hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy for eating problems can be helpful, whether it’s used to understand underlying causes, challenge automatic negative thoughts, encourage more positive thinking patterns or ease anxiety.
Hypnotherapy for eating problems
Hypnotherapy can be very helpful for those who struggle with eating too much in a short space of time. Often referred to as ‘binge-eating’, this often involves eating until you feel uncomfortable or painfully full. For some people, it can feel like a compulsion to keep eating, or as though they cannot stop until all of the food on their plate is gone. Uncovering past events that may have triggered or influenced your relationship with food may be done through analytic hypnotherapy or regression techniques.
Reducing stress and anxiety is another key way hypnotherapy for binge-eating can help. Often those with the condition find symptoms are exacerbated by stress, so easing this stress is ideal. Relaxation techniques can also help people continue with this work outside of their sessions.
Hypnotherapy for different types of eating problems can be a helpful tool for many, especially if other approaches are failing to work, but it is important to discuss all treatments you’re trying with your doctor or mental health team. Hypnotherapists may work alongside others within your team to ensure there are no conflicts in your treatment approach.
Hypnotherapy can help to identify the root causes of what you are struggling with. Certain types, such as regression hypnotherapy can be used to uncover specific events that may have lead to problems with eating. Suggestion hypnotherapy can be used to encourage more positive ways of thinking, especially around the way the person sees themselves and food. In some cases, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) may also be used.
Hypnotherapy can help to raise self-esteem, decrease anxiety around food, and improve confidence. Hypnotherapists will often teach self-hypnosis techniques too which can be used throughout the recovery process.
If your struggles with eating are very behaviour-orientated, it can feel like you are trapped in a cycle of binging and purging. Hypnotherapy can be used to make positive suggestions to the subconscious to help break this pattern. Helping to build confidence and improve self-esteem, the aim of hypnotherapy for bulimia is to improve your relationship with food and themselves.
Hypnosis for picky eating
If you struggle with ‘fussy’ or restrictive eating, such as having trouble with textures, flavours, or trying new things, hypnotherapy may be able to help. While many assume only children are ‘picky eaters’, unhealthy or difficult attitudes towards food can often carry over from our childhood into adulthood, making the struggle seem like even more of a challenge.
Hypnosis for picky eating can help you to recognise what your current eating limitations are, set goals around what you would like to try and change, whilst still maintaining boundaries around things you aren’t comfortable or ready to change. A hypnotherapist can help you to recognise any traumatic past experiences with foods, identify specific food anxieties, and apply mindfulness techniques to help make mealtimes and trying new foods a less stressful experience.
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