When food rules your life – disordered eating explained

1 April 2024

Do you think about food all the time?  Are you constantly on a diet?  And when you’re not, you’re off your diet and planning to go back on it soon? Maybe you  divide the food you eat into “good” and “bad”? Or you may binge in secret or skip lunch to make up for eating too much the night before?  All of these are examples of disordered eating.  Disordered eating is an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.  And,  if you have it, you are not alone. A global survey found half of all women and 37% of men in the UK are dietingi


disordered eating involves focusing on good versus bad foods

Unrealistic pressure leads to disordered eating

Men and women face pressure to look a certain way and be an “ideal” size and shape. Every day, people young and old are bombarded by countless images that are impossible to live up to.  From morning to night, the media churns out a steady diet of unrealistically young, thin and attractive women and slim, muscular men.  You can find out more about how to improve your body image here

Disordered eating starts with dieting

Most people start to diet because they feel dissatisfied with their bodies, even when they are a normal weight. A study conducted in the USA on over 4000 women aged 25-45, found 74.5% reported concerns about their weight and shape interfered with their happinessi.




The cycle of dieting and weight gain

It’s not surprising many people can’t achieve their ideal body and end up on a diet – weight gain treadmill. Often they become preoccupied with food. If this carries on over time, a disrupted and unhealthy eating pattern often develops.

Disordered eating affects lives

Many people have lived with disordered eating for years. They may use restrictive dieting, skipping meals or binge eating as a way to control their weight. People with disordered eating often experience a cycle of yo-yo dieting and frequent weight changes. Many eat in an unbalanced way, for instance, avoiding a major food group such as carbs or fat.

worrying about eating

Constant worrying

People with disordered eating habits spend a lot of time worrying about their body shape, food and exercise. They feel out of control over eating, guilty and ashamed about the amount or types of food they eat. They often feel upset when they don’t eat the way they want. Many will eat alone and in secret.

For more help with worrying about how you eat, have a look at Five practical ways to tackle weight anxiety

Vicious cycle

It’s easy for people with disordered eating to get caught in a vicious cycle of feeling low and worrying about how they look. They avoid seeing friends or doing things they used to enjoy, especially if this involves food. This can leave them feeling worse about themselves, increasing the focus on food and weight as they try and control these feelings.

children enjoy food without disordered eating habits

Client stories

Kelly’s problem

Kelly (not her real name), is a 54 year old financial director for a London law firm. She’s happily married with two adult children and a good circle of friends. Despite her success, Kelly struggled every day with her feelings about her body and her weight. She spent hours every day, criticising herself and others for what they ate and how they looked.

Kelly had struggled with her weight and eating since she was a child. By the time she came to see me at 54, she’d had enough and had decided now was the time to change. Kelly remembered being criticised for her size and what she ate from a young age.  She could vividly remember being taken out of lessons at primary school to be weighed by the nurse to check she hadn’t gained weight.

Her issues with weight, food and eating had followed her around throughout her life. It didn’t matter how well her life was going, she was consumed with worry about her weight and felt happy when she was restricting food and losing weight.  She only felt good about herself when she denied her body food, and bad about herself when she gained weight or ate what she considered too much or the wrong foods.

Kelly’s results

We worked together to unpick Kelly’s feelings about herself. Overtime she began to develop a healthier relationship with food and her body. We found ways for her to let go of criticising herself and to focus instead on the things that were important to her.

As we worked together, Kelly learnt new ways of coping with life’s challenges and to think and feel differently about herself.  She let go of the thoughts and feelings that had been holding her back and learnt how to relax around food or when she saw herself in the mirror.

happy in body and mind without the judgement of disordered eating

In Kelly’s words

I’d been struggling with weight issues for as long as I can remember.  These were driven by being overweight as a child and having a mum who tried to control this for me.  This resulted in a very bad relationship with food, when I was either on a diet or I was eating what I wanted.  Having spent a lifetime yoyo dieting I wanted to see if I could make a positive change in my life for good.

My initial goal was to get hypnotherapy to stop wanting to eat anything that was bad for me or was fattening, and therefore I would finally be happy with my weight and be the size I wanted to be.

As I talked to Celia, I realised I needed to address my toxic relationship with food and dieting; stop judging myself and others by what they were eating or how thin they were; ultimately understanding that being thinner or fatter didn’t define me as a person or how successful I was in life.  The most poignant thing that we discussed was whether I wanted my legacy to be someone who spent a lifetime worrying about food and my weight.  I didn’t!

There were years of negativity to unpack, which Celia did very systematically.  Whilst she did hypnotherapy with me most sessions, it was the conversations that were ultimately most impactful…the therapy part.  The work we did shifted my mindset.

My relationship with food and eating has completely changed.  I simply don’t think about it in the same way that I did.  I’m still careful about what I eat, which I guess is normal for a 54-year-old woman.  I have learned to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, and eat things that nourish my body, rather than focusing on calories constantly.  I don’t beat myself up in the same way that I used to.  I have also stopped judging others for what they eat, especially my husband and children.

I’m now happier in myself than I’ve been for as long as I can remember.

I am ultimately living a better life than I was before, and that’s something to really celebrate.

For the first time in years, my new year’s resolution didn’t involve weight loss!

disordered eating

Jackie’s problem

Jackie (not her real name), a married 51 year old business owner and mother of two, had struggled with disordered eating and her relationship with food since she was a teenager. She felt negative about body.  Jackie was constantly dieting – working hard to lose weight, only to put it back on again. Every year or so, she went up a dress size and now had a wardrobe of clothes she could no longer fit in to. She felt in despair and desperately wanted to change..

Jackie would try all day to eat healthily or not at all, only to be overcome by food cravings.  She would rush out to the nearest shop and cram chocolate into her mouth while she was in the car. She felt bad about herself and would criticise herself for what she’d done.

This was affecting all areas of her life. Jackie couldn’t look at herself in the mirror without being consumed by her self critical thoughts. She felt self conscious and judged for her weight, comparing herself negatively to her friends and colleagues.

Jackie’s results

We worked together to find ways for Jackie to manage the problems in her life without turning to food. She developed coping strategies that worked to make her feel better in the short term and the long run.

We developed ways to help Jackie let go of rigid dieting while still feeling in control. And we worked together to help her to find ways to manage her cravings.

As she made changes, Jackie started to feel better about her body. She found she was gradually losing weight.  It happened naturally so, for the first time ever, she kept the weight off.

Jackie stopped being controlled by thoughts about eating and her body. Instead, she focused her time and attention on other areas of her life. As she felt happier in herself, she noticed her confidence and self esteem improving too.

self esteem part of being happy

Jackie’s words

It was great to finally talk to someone that understood how I was feeling. Within minutes of talking to Celia I felt she empathised with my situation and it put me at complete ease. Celia really listened to what was going on for me and tailored each session accordingly, The sessions focused on my experience and what I wanted to get out of it, and this personalised, feedback-based approach has been really helpful in making sure I get the most out of my sessions. I now feel a lot more capable of managing my life as a result of the work we’ve done together. It was fantastic to have the recordings after each session and the other resources to look through and practice. Celia is very friendly, non-judgemental, and understanding, and she’s an excellent therapist that I would highly recommend to anyone who is struggling.

Change is possible

If this sounds like you, there are steps you can take to change. It takes courage, but it can be done. When I work with clients with disordered eating patterns, I listen to all their worries and fears about giving up their eating behaviours. I support them to make changes at a pace that is right for them. We work together to develop a balanced attitude to food and eating and to see it as just one part of life.

Here are some steps you can take to change disordered eating habits right now.

1. Work with your body

Understanding how your body reacts when you are on a diet can help you. When food is restricted over time, the body starts to react as it would if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat. Your metabolism slows, so the food you eat will last for as long as possible. As your body thinks it needs more food, it sends messages to your brain to make you think about food so you will eat as soon as you can.

When you do eat, your body wants as much food as possible in case it has to go without again. Your body encourages you to eat a lot of food (binge). It also keeps your metabolic rate on slow so you do not use this food as quickly as you would normally. This is why people gradually gain more weight when they diet. For more on how to change the way you think about food, take a look at Creating the Mindset to Lose Weight

2. Eat regularly

Regular meals and snacks will help you develop a positive food routine and give structure to your eating. Regular eating can help to combat binge eating, because it prevents the extreme hunger that often leads to over-eating.  For more check out https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/five-ways-mindful-eating-can-stop-you-overeating/

3. Understand the psychology of disordered eating

We don’t always eat just because we are hungry. For some people being hungry is one of the least important reasons for wanting food. Boredom, habit, stress and feeling down or low can all be reasons for eating. Comfort eating can become a way of covering up feelings and needs, rather than dealing with them.

Try this exercise to recognise your psychological reasons for eating. Write a list of everything which influences what and when you eat. Your list may include coping with emotions, as a reward, to please friends and family, being criticised or they may be totally different.

Recognising the way we eat helps us cope with life is the first step to finding other ways of coping.  Have a look at Five practical ways to improve your body image too.

Now make a list of the times and reasons you eat other than for hunger. Try and find different ways of coping with them and try them out to see what works best for you. Check out Five Ways Being Assertive Helps You Communicate to help you.

4. Use self-hypnosis

Hypnosis allows you to experience positive thoughts and images as if they are real. Using self-hypnosis can support any changes you want to make to the way you think and feel about food and your body. It can help you to learn to respond to situations and emotions in new and helpful ways. Self-hypnosis harnesses the power of your mind and teaches it to work for you in the way you would like.

For more on how hypnosis can help you have a look at https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/how-can-hypnotherapy-help-me/

courage to change eating patterns

5. Reward yourself

Starting to change takes bravery and perseverance, especially if you have had your problem for a long time. Make sure to recognise any steps you take towards change.  Consider even the smallest shift will take you closer to your goal. Acknowledging what you have achieved is very important.  Remember to congratulate yourself for any action you have taken, no matter how small.

Contact your GP if you are vomiting, misusing laxatives or severely restricting your food, even if you are still at an average weight.

For more on how I can help you to break free from disordered eating click here

Would you like to make living life easier, right now? Get your free Live Life on Your Terms recording here and begin to live your life with confidence.

¹ Patterns and Prevalance of Disordered Eating and Weight Control Behaviors in Women Age 25-45 

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