Health and weight

Obsessing about food

Food is an important part of how we live and socialise with our families and friends. Everyone has their own ideas about what, when and how much to eat. For most people these ideas come from their family and culture. Food and eating is usually an enjoyable and necessary part of life but some people become so obsessed by food that it takes over their lives sometimes to the point where they become mentally and physically unwell.
Young people we spoke with found themselves planning their lives around food and weight and eventually became unwell developing illnesses such as: 
  • Anorexia, an eating disorder and mental health condition where the person will severely limit or ‘restrict’ the amount of food they have, for long periods of time. For more see What is Anorexia nervosa?’.
  • Bulimia, is an eating disorder and mental health issue where a person regularly eats large amounts of foods in a short space of time (bingeing), then tries to get rid of the food and the calories they contain (purging). Purging can take be done in many ways, e.g. vomiting, taking laxatives or doing too much exercise.  For more see ‘What is Bulimia nervosa?’.
  • Binge-eating disorder is where a person eats large amounts of food within a short space of time on a regular basis, even when they are not hungry.

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder or (BED’s) are recognised by doctors as eating disorders that can be treated by psychological therapies including counselling. (For physical effects of these disorders, see Health problems associated with being overweight)
According to the charity Beat, there could be many reasons why people get eating disorders but they can develop from difficult circumstances or life experiences. For example, some people have problems at home and/or school and react by ‘comfort eating’. Others feel unsettled or confused about life and respond by avoiding food altogether. People could be affected by eating disorders in different ways; one mother told us about her son’s eating disorder which didn’t fit any specific category.
People who have an eating disorder are taken over by obsessive thoughts and patterns of behaviour. They can become trapped in a cycle of limiting what they eat or bingeing and purging, that gets worse over time. It can be difficult for people to realise they have a problem or accept that they need help. Those we met who had anorexia and/or bulimia knew that they had developed problems with food and eating. Some had had psychological treatments like group therapy and counselling. Despite treatment, some of them knew they still had eating problems.
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Most of the young people we spoke with were overweight, rather than underweight. Many had problems with their eating behaviour such as binge eating. However only a couple of them wanted to get psychological help to tackle their problem.
For more young people’s experiences of eating disorders visit our eating disorders section.

Last reviewed February 2015.

Last updated February 2012.

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