Worried Someone Has an Eating Disorder


Thinking your friend may have an eating disorder?

Here we’ll take a closer look at what an eating disorder is and how you can offer support to your friend


What is an eating disorder?

The term eating disorder is used to describe a group of illnesses where a person has a distorted view of body shape and weight and extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A few common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder.

Helping someone you think has an eating disorder

Helping someone who is not ready to change their behavior may be difficult and it is ultimately their decision to get help. If eating disorders go undetected or undiagnosed, they could become physically and emotionally damaging, and even life-threatening.

If you are worried about someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder, it may be a good idea to talk with the person you are concerned about. Letting them know that you are open to listening to them, without being judgmental, may help to make them more open to discussing what is going on. If you approach the person you are concerned about, it may be helpful to remember that you are talking to them as a friend and not a therapist. Some other things you may want to consider include:

Finding an appropriate time to talk. Timing can be an important part of talking to someone about sensitive issues. If possible, try to choose a time when you feel relaxed and your friend feels relaxed. Try to avoid talking with them during a time where they may be on the defensive or threatened. Otherwise, you may end up getting a bad reaction and creating distance between the two of you.

Be informed. It is a good idea to have general knowledge about some of the characteristics of eating disorders. By doing your research, you may be better equipped to understand the reasons for the reactions you may receive. For example, denial that they have an eating disorder and a belief that they are fat are two characteristics of eating disorders. Therefore, it is normal for those who are experiencing an eating disorder to become angry and not want to talk or listen to you. Being informed may help you to handle their reactions better. Knowing more about eating disorders may also insure that you are seeing the right ‘signs’ of an eating disorder before you talk to your friends. The related articles found at the bottom of this page are another way to get more information.

Offer your support. It can be scary when you realize you need help for an eating disorder. Knowing you have a friend you can trust can always be helpful. Let the person know that you are concerned about their health and when they are ready to get help, you can help them find someone to talk to. Also let them know that you could accompany them to discuss the situation with a counselor, psychologist or doctor.

Remember that your friend might be guarded or defensive when you first bring this up to them. It’s normal for people with eating disorders to have trouble admitting to others—and themselves—that they might have a problem.

If the problem persists even after your speak with your friend, you might want to consider talking about it with someone you trust like a family member, your friend’s family, a teacher or a counselor. You might feel anxious about telling others at first, but remember that you’re not betraying your friend’s trust—you’re only helping them. You can also call the Boys Town (for everyone) National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 to speak with someone who is available to listen to your concerns 24/7.


Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Comfort Eating


Comfort Eating

A brief look at what comfort eating is and how you can manage it

What is comfort eating?

It is not uncommon for people to eat when they feel sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely. Eating may even make you feel better in the short term. Some foods, such as chocolate, affect the chemicals in the brain that regulate your mood. For that reason, you often feel better right after you have eaten chocolate but these feelings usually don’t last for very long. Eating as a response to certain emotions, particularly if you are not hungry, is known as comfort eating.

Eating your favorite food occasionally when something upsets you is OK and many people are likely to do this from time to time. Comfort eating may become a problem if you regularly feeling sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely and continue to use food to cope with these feelings. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to talk to someone about your feelings and find healthy solutions for managing these emotions. If you are eating when you are not hungry and you feel guilty after eating, it may also be a good idea to talk to someone.

You can contact your medical doctor, dietitian or nutritionist, or psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional for more information. By talking to one of these professionals you should be able to work out some of the reasons why you may be comfort eating and discuss different ways to manage this behavior.

Other ideas for managing your eating

If you are concerned about overeating in response to certain emotions, here are some recommendations about what you can do in addition to finding a professional you can talk to:

Be aware. It is helpful to look at your eating patterns and try to understand what is causing you to eat for comfort. Sometimes, when food is readily available or already on the plate, we may not even realize how much or why we’re eating. This is called ‘unconscious eating’. It’s possible you may be eating because you are feeling sad or stressed. If you experience these feelings often, then you may need to find other ways of managing these feelings. Keeping a diary about what you eat and how you feel before and after you eat can help you to see what triggers your eating. Mindfulness exercises may also be beneficial.

Explore other ways for managing feelings. Comfort eating involves eating to help you deal with your feelings. Try to find other coping strategies to deal with your feelings such as exercising, drawing or writing. Expressing yourself can help you release your emotions in a positive way.

Make a plan for dealing with boredom. Many people have a tendency to eat when they are bored. If you find yourself doing this regularly, it may be useful to find some other activities to participate in when you are bored. You could call a friend, participate in sports, read a book, or go for a walk.

Eating healthy food. If you are using food to cope with your feelings, this may be a long-standing pattern and it could take time to adopt other methods to manage your concerns or stress. A change you could make right away is to eat healthy foods rather than those high in fat or sugar.


For more information on health eating habits, check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Binge Eating


Binge Eating

A closer look at what binge eating is and tips for managing it

What is Binge Eating?

Most people overeat every now and then and it is common to occasionally feel as though you have eaten too much. However, regularly consuming large amounts of food when you are not feeling hungry, usually to the point of feeling too full, and at a much faster rate than usual is known as binge eating. Binge eating is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating.

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:

  • Feeling that eating is out of control

  • Eating what most people would consider to be a large amount of food

  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable

  • Eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry

  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when

  • Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten

  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating

If you think one or a number of these characteristics describe your eating habits, you may want to speak to a medical doctor, a nutritionist, dietitian, psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional.

Causes of binge eating

No one knows for sure what causes binge eating. A number of different factors are thought to contribute to the problem. These include physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry), social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal or previous trauma), dieting, and emotions such as anger, boredom, depression and feeling worried or stressed. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems.

Dieting may aggravate binge eating. Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when to eat. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day.

Effects of binge eating

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating. Some of these include:

  • Not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients. Often the food that is eaten during a binge is high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients. This may lead to other health difficulties.

  • Depression may occur as binging often increases feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness.

It is not uncommon for people who have a problem with binge eating to be overweight or obese, although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range.

Being obese may contribute to the onset of certain chronic health problems such diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease, cancer, and bone and joint problems.

Suggestions for getting help

The reasons for binging are complicated and it may be difficult to manage your binging on your own. Managing your eating habits may include speaking to a professional. It may be helpful for you to talk with a medical doctor, dietitian, nutritionist or mental health professional. They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your binging. There are a number of options for doing this and by talking it through you can find the best one for you. There are also things you can do to help yourself get your eating under control.

Some suggestions include:

Eating regularly. It may be helpful to eat small meals regularly so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day. It’s also important to start developing a routine, so your body can intuit when it’s time to eat. Having a structural eating plan is key to avoiding binging.

Avoid skipping meals. If you can, try to avoid missing meals. Skipping a meal may make you hungry later on in the day which could result in binge eating.

Pay attention to your feelings. Often times, binge eating has a psychological component to it. It’s important to pay close attention to the feelings you have when you’re triggered and considering binging. This will give you a starting point of understanding the tie between eating and your emotions.

Eating a balanced diet. If possible, avoid going on diets which suggest that you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day. When you deny yourself food, you’re more likely to restart the cycle of restricting, binging, and feeling guilty. If you’re having strong cravings for triggering foods, plan to enjoy that food at a later date in the week when you’re not feeling so impulsive. Also, having good eating habits can promote good health, a better sense of how full you are, and can reduce your risk for chronic diseases.

Have a distraction. Having something else you can do when you feel like binging may also be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music. Check out our Developing Coping Strategies article for more suggestions.

Move your body! Putting your body in motion everyday can be helpful. If you haven’t exercised before, it may be a good idea to talk with your medical doctor about the type of exercise that would be suitable for you. Exercise doesn’t have to mean just going to the gym for a run on the treadmill or lifting weights. Find a way to move your body in a way you enjoy. Perhaps that means going on a hike with friends, dancing your heart out in your room, riding your bike around town, or taking your dog for a walk.

In your journey of recovery, it’s important to become in tune with your body and the signals it gives. Notice how you’re feeling when you eat, how you feel when you move your body, and how you feel when caring for yourself in other ways. Your self-care routine (which can be as simple as showering and getting enough sleep) will help you grow more in tune with your needs and what makes you feel like the best version of yourself!


For more information:


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Eating Well & Feeling Healthy

Making healthy eating choices

A closer look at some guidelines to follow when it comes to eating well

If you’ve ever found yourself confused by what it means to eat well, you’re not alone. For many, this is a sensitive area that often brings up issues related to weight, body image and self-esteem. Conflicting media messages around health and food can also raise a lot of questions around what to eat. This fact sheet is intended to help you better understand the connection between eating well and your physical and mental health.

If you or someone you know struggles with eating issues, you may also want to read our fact sheet on overcoming an eating disorder and the steps you can take towards recovery.

Why eat well?

Eating well plays an important role in determining how healthy you feel both physically and mentally. How you eat can make a huge impact on how you feel on a daily basis, influencing your emotional well-being, social support system, stress levels, and self-esteem.

Many people believe that all the chemicals playing into our mood originate in the brain, but it was found that about 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut! Serotonin is a chemical that influences your mood, sleep, memory, learning, appetite and digestion. It’s easy to see why it’s so important to give your body the nourishment it needs.

Eating well provides you with the fuel you need for physical and mental energy. By providing yourself with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; you enhance your immune function, stress response, and mood.

What does it mean to eat well?

Eating well is not about following a set of rules, but rather about learning what your body needs. It has two components: “what you eat” and “how you eat”.

When it comes to “what you eat”, ask yourself:

  • Am I meeting my nutritional needs by eating a variety of vegetables and fruits; whole grains; legumes (beans), seeds, and nuts; healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, or flax seed; and healthy sources of protein like fish or lentils?

  • What about enjoying dessert from time to time and taking pleasure in the social aspect of eating and meals?

When it comes to “how we eat”, think about:

  • Trying to have a flexible approach to eating that doesn’t cut out food groups or label foods “good” or “bad”

  • Using your sense of hunger and fullness as a guide to what and when to eat

What are the benefits of eating well?

Eating well can strengthen the positive relationship between our body image and food. How and what we eat often reflects how we treat our bodies more generally and if we learn to eat well (i.e. intuitively and without rigid restrictions), we may also start feeling better toward our bodies.

When we treat our bodies respectfully by listening to and meeting cues of hunger and fullness, we are not only eating well—we are practicing self-respect and self-care. When we refrain from restricting certain food groups and practice a flexible approach towards food, we are practicing self-compassion, which in turn can increase positive body image.

Tips for eating well

Your eating patterns, like any behavior, take time to change. If you have struggled in the past with eating, it’s natural to have questions or feel nervous. Being patient and kind to yourself as you try to make changes is a key part of the process.

Here are some ideas that might help you in eating well:

Dieting vs Lifestyle Changes: Dieting is an approach to eating that prioritizes making rules for what, how, and when you can eat. It doesn’t alleviate the origins of the eating issues and research has found that many people will regain the weight they’ve lost on a diet because it was not a sustainable change. Many diets will lead you to ignoring your body’s signs of hunger and fullness, which decreases our understanding and awareness of our bodies. Shift your mindset from going on a diet to making a new lifestyle choice that includes making healthier choices about what you eat. In practice, it is better to make adjustments to your diet and eating habits slowly, so as to not overwhelm yourself and will help you create long-lasting changes you can stick to.

Practice intuitive eating: Eating intuitively is the idea that you should “eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full”. Mixed messages from peers and the media, past eating habits, and previous dieting practices might make it difficult to identify and respond to inner body cues, making it difficult to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings. Some of the principles of intuitive eating include: rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, making peace with food, challenging ideas of “bad” foods, and respecting fullness. It also includes differentiating between physical hunger and the urge to use food to cope with stress, loss, lack of control, or anxiety. For more on intuitive eating, click here.

Be mindful: Intuitive eating is based in learning to be in tune with your body so that you can accurately detect sensations of hunger and fullness--and differentiate these from emotional feelings. One way to do this is “eating mindfully” or paying intentional, non-judgmental attention to the experience of eating and drinking. It might seem strange to pay attention to the taste, colors, textures, and flavors of our food, but this attention, combined with mindfulness regarding the way we think about food and the way eating affects our mood and emotions, allows a greater awareness of body cues and eating patterns. It can also be an effective grounding tool that keeps you present with your body.

Start small: You may want to change certain eating habits like eating past the point of fullness, ignoring or not noticing hunger, or not paying attention when you eat. Lasting change happens from many small changes made over time. So, as you make efforts to change, try to start small and simple. If you’re working on paying attention to hunger, experiment with carrying snacks with you so you can eat when you feel yourself becoming hungry. Or if you’re experimenting with noticing fullness, eat slowly and wait in between additional helpings. Give yourself time to notice how full you’re actually feeling, perhaps drinking some water as you wait.

Taking an interest in what you eat: Taking part in planning what you eat and cooking your own food is a great way to connect to the experience of eating and self-care. As we become aware of the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s grown, this awareness can motivate us to make healthy choices. Planning, cooking, and other forms of preparing our meals (doing the dishes!) are all places you can practice mindfulness.

Self-compassion: Give yourself permission to eat and respect your body.  Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds—and be committed to learning what it is that makes you feel well! Remember that your worth is not dependent on what you eat and that you don’t have to eat a “perfect” diet to be healthy. Eating well is about your relationship to your body and food choices through balance, flexibility, ease, and enjoyment. Progress, intention, and mindfulness matter more than the illusion of perfection.

Get support: If you’re finding it challenging to make changes, you may find it helpful to talk to your medical doctor, a dietitian, or a nutritionist. With support and resources, you can develop a realistic plan for eating well and being healthy.

Information in this article was provided by:

For more information on health eating habits, check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for