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Eating Problems: Signs You May Have an Eating Problem

Eating disorders start with eating problems. Eating problems might revolve around food, the body or weight. Learn more about eating problems.

Eating problems typically consist of unhealthy relationships with food, your body or dieting. While eating problems are not full-blown eating disorders, these problems can be warning signs of an eating disorder and progress to a full-blown eating disorder so an attempt should be made to correct eating problems as soon as possible. People with eating problems can suffer as much distress as those with an eating disorder.

Eating problems can develop as early as childhood (who gets eating disorders?), often when a child sees unhealthy eating or dieting behaviors in her or his parents. An eating problem may also be rooted in the desire to be thin, and considering thin as beautiful.

Below are described common eating problems and ways to tell if you or someone you love has an eating problem. Ask yourself if any of these issues bother you or interfere with your life (happiness, job, school, relationships, etc.).

An Unhealthy Relationship with Food is an Eating Problem

The most common eating problem is an unhealthy relationship with food. Food is supposed to nourish our bodies and be only one element of our lives. When eating becomes a source of guilt, shame or fear, this relationship has become an eating problem and is unhealthy. We need food to live, but obsessing over food is not good.

An unhealthy relationship with food takes many forms:

  • Having rigid rules about food, for example:
    • Allowed and forbidden foods
    • Times of day it is permissible to eat
    • The amount of food "allowed" to eat
  • Feeling guilty about eating
  • Binge eating
    • Characterized by feeling a loss of control over eating
    • Often occurs at a faster than normal pace
    • Usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame

An Unhealthy Relationship with Your Body

Another common eating problem, particularly for women, is an unhealthy relationship with your body. While the relationship is with the body, it manifests itself as an eating problem.

This may take one or all of the following forms:

  • Valuing body weight and/or appearance as the most important aspect of self-worth
  • Difficulty interpreting the body's internal signals (of hunger, fullness, emotions, etc.)
  • A distorted view of own body
  • Feeling very dissatisfied and/or unhappy with physical appearance
  • Preoccupied with physical appearance to the degree it interferes with other important aspects of life (job, school, relationships, etc.)

Eating Problems: Unhealthy Weight Regulation

The third common eating problem is unhealthy weight regulation practices. Rather than viewing food and eating as nourishment and self-care, this group is often uncomfortable with the act of eating and may engage in unhealthy behaviors in an effort to reduce this guilt.

These eating problem behaviors may include:

  • Excessive exercise
  • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medication
  • Self-induced vomiting

article references


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next: About the Eating Attitudes Test
~ all eating disorders articles

Last Updated: 13 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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