You're not alone. Did you know that young people, aged between 14 and 25 are most at risk of developing eating disorders?
If you can identify with a few of the points below, it could be that you’re struggling with the beginnings of an eating disorder. This is not to scare or shock you, but to guide you towards a clearer understanding of your thoughts and attitudes towards food and eating and to identify the potential consequences.
Thinking about food constantly, i.e. foods that you feel are ‘bad’ and so forbidden, how to avoid eating with other people, how to cut calories, how to lose weight
Avoiding social events because of food or fear of eating in front of people
Believing or thinking things might be better if you were thinner
Feeling pleased with weight loss and becoming focused on losing more – perhaps feeling unwell but still continuing to exercise and/or restrict food
Ignoring comments from friends or family that you’re losing too much weight
Weighing yourself a lot, perhaps becoming focused on achieving a specific number on the scales
Constantly checking your appearance in the mirror and feeling strong emotions about your shape and size, perhaps having particular dislike or even hatred for certain parts, for example stomach, thighs.
Associating eating with instant weight gain
Ignoring feelings of hunger
Fearing specific foods such as bread, pasta, butter, nuts, oil
Feeling compelled to exercise and feeling guilty if you’re not able to
Always counting calories and/or checking fat content and only allowing yourself to eat foods that are low in calories and fat
Feeling overwhelmed by emotions, making you feel very negative about your body and your self worth and using food to cope – avoiding eating, using exercise, eating lots at one time, perhaps the very foods you’ve been trying to avoid, feeling guilty and ashamed, making yourself sick, taking laxatives, diet pills
Are you finding it difficult to admit to yourself that food and eating have become a problem? Perhaps you worry that by admitting there’s a problem, you’ll feel even more alone and the feelings will become more real? There’s often a fear that if you tell somebody about it, especially a parent, then they will immediately jump in and become very strict with food and constantly monitor your eating. It can sometimes be easier to explain your feelings and thoughts in an email to start with, so the person reading it has time to process what you’re communicating and so approaches the situation more calmly. It can also be a good idea to explain what you’d find helpful, for example not making reference to food at the table, including salad and vegetables with meals to make them more appealing, eating at set times.
“There were moments when I become very aware of my problems with food and eating and it was during these times that I felt I needed to tell somebody and share the intense burden I was carrying. It really helped to talk to a friend about it first and she was willing to just listen and didn’t try to challenge me or ‘fix’ me. My parents didn’t know anything but would keep on at me about my eating habits. I then decided to explain to them in an email about what I was dealing with at college and how it helped me to have some control over the emotions I was experiencing. I was honest about my fears, especially my fear that they would try and take away my freedom and independence. When my Mum sat down with me, she thanked me for being honest and we talked about what would be the best way forward and some strategies to help. I felt she was listening to me and was on my side.”
You can also phone ABC for advice and speak to one of our youth befrienders, who have personal understanding of eating disorders and can help to reassure you and offer you advice and strategies for moving forwards.
“I knew that I was pushing my friends away but I couldn’t help it. Fear dominated my life and especially the fear that my eating disorder would be taken away from me. Socialising became too much to cope with and I knew that everybody was talking about me. It was easier to just survive on my own.” Sophie
How To Help Yourself
Let a couple of close friends know about your eating disorder so that they understand some of your fears and can be on hand for support.
Confide in a teacher or tutor you trust and feel comfortable talking to so that they can help with the pressure of academic work and create some flexibility in the timetable.
Have your lunch in a positive environment, for example, with a friend who has a healthy attitude towards food and is a good role model, somewhere away from the main dining room to reduce anxiety.
Talk to us - our friendly support team will be glad to hear from you and you can choose how you talk to us; by telephone, by email or by video call or online chat. More about our helplines.
Going away to university or college can have a real impact on your attitude and behaviours around food and eating. It's likely to be the first time you're living away from home and the transition to a completely new environment with new social and academic pressures, can have an impact on your relationship with food. Perhaps you went to university already struggling or are currently seeking professional help through your university for an eating disorder. ABC is here to support you at whatever stage you're at.
You can email us at email@example.com or call us on 03000 11 12 13 and select option 1.
Eating Disorders: A Guide for Students
ABC's Student Guide is a 28-page comprehensive guide for those personally struggling, those worried about a friend or for those seeking a better understanding of eating disorders. If you'd like a copy or want to order some for your university or college, you can download the order form here. Or you can buy a copy through our shop.
The guide contains practical and preventative advice and suggestions, including information on academic study, body image, exercise and nutrition (with balanced meal suggestions from ABC’s nutritional advisor).
“The majority of the population uses social media, not just young people. Most people will use Facebook and Twitter but I think younger people generally tend to use Instagram, SnapChat and Tumblr. Photos are easier to upload/share, which create more conversations and comments. I do think though that there’s more pressure on young people to share more and be involved in everything.” Olivia
“Instagram offers different filters that automatically warp photographs which are uploaded to make you look more flawless. Apps are also often used which can manipulate images to make your legs look skinner, your stomach look flatter etc. With young people editing their images like this on a daily basis, their friends have an inaccurate perception of what is normal and what they should look like. Apps such as Instagram are also based around how many likes and comments your images get. This may mean that young people feel that in order to get likes and comment on photos of themselves, they must look like those who get 100s of likes, without knowing that their images are in fact not a true representation of what they look like and have been achieved through hours of editing their appearance." Rachael
“When I was 15 and suffering with anorexia, I came across a pro anorexia website and felt a mixture of emotions. I can remember feeling shocked and horrified at the images I saw and the words encouraging people to embrace the illness. Yet, I could also understand how some people might feel a sense of acceptance and community, being a part of a world that understood what they were going through and seemed to provide reassurance. I wanted to become part of something that offered real support for young people, guiding them towards recovery by getting to the root of the issues we face in our lives and learning new ways of surviving. This is why I became involved with the youth work of ABC.”
The reality of ‘pro’ websites
Although ‘pro’ eating disorders can appear harmless, maybe even a curiosity or even a temporary support network, in reality, they:
- Encourage the competitive nature of an eating disorder and encourage feelings of failure and self-hatred
- Promote an eating disorder as a person’s identity and a lifestyle choice rather than a life-threatening illness
- ‘Sell’ the so-called benefits of an eating disorder rather than explaining what it takes away – energy, enjoyment, happiness, social life, friends, self-worth, hope
- Make eating disorders seem attractive and encourage those who are beginning to struggle with food and eating to become ill and risk their futures
Wherever you are in your journey, whatever your current relationship with food and eating, we are here for you.