When you have disordered eating, you might be driven to behave in ways you never thought possible. You might find yourself compromising your dearest values, as the unwanted preoccupation with food grips tightly and permeates into every aspect of daily life. Understandably, as a consequence, you might feel ashamed and hideaway more, feeling increasingly isolated and misunderstood. If others found out, you fear judgment and criticism.

You are not alone. Disordered eating can unwillingly and powerfully take over your life – these are 13 secrets that you might keep: 

1. Walking to the end of your street can bring on an attack of body self-loathing as you incessantly compare your body size to others. ‘Are they bigger or smaller than me?’ you question. Some days, the body shame intensifies to such a level that it is a challenge to leave the house. If you do, you cover up with layers and withdraw from the world.

2. You likely have a fervent interest in fitbits, healthy eating apps, the weighing scales or calorie counting, although you play this down in company.  Calculating numbers to monitor your progress has become a relied-on indicator to demonstrate if you have ‘got it right’ or ‘not’. You feel guilty and ashamed when you fail to meet your targets.

3. You are exceptional at displaying happy exterior when in the company of the others. Behind closed doors, you often feel miserable, depressed and alone. You feel vulnerable showing these feelings to others and there are likely reasonable grounds for this, rooted in earlier experiences.

4. You dislike the fact that you become adept at deceiving others around food related issues.

‘Have you eaten today?’

‘I had a big lunch and am not hungry now.’

‘Where have all the biscuits gone?’

‘Jo ate them. She was hungry and hadn’t had time for lunch.’

5. You sometimes browse the web to seek out ‘solutions’ to change your body - liposuction, diet pills, celebrity advice and wonder diets, although you know in your heart this is futile and destructive. Body change so far hasn’t brought the happiness you are seeking.

6. There is a comfort in using food (through eating it or avoiding it). It is yours alone, and is a very private and personal thing. Having said that, you loathe the way it controls your life. Nothing feels spontaneous or free, as food is a constant interrupter and distraction from living in the moment.

7. You feel overwhelming panic and anxiety when you have eaten more than you planned to. You wish you could start the day all over again. Others trying to console you can leave you feeling irritable and distracted.

8. Eating in public is an entirely different affair to eating on your own. It feels like a double life, as one identity contradicts wildly with the other.

9. Short-term bingeing is an intensely enjoyable experience, although this joy is momentary.  If you binge, you will go to different shops or cafes to minimise the chance of being found out.

10. You might not look as if you have an eating disorder. If you have anorexia nervosa or you are very overweight, the signs are more visible. However, many people look absolutely ‘normal’ to the outside world.

11. A binge can be a dissociative experience – you temporarily leave your life, finding oblivion and escape. Afterwards, you land harshly back, as a dark, cloak of self-loathing descends.

12. You call yourself derogatory names that you would never dream of calling anyone else. You feel deserving of these labels.

13. You sometimes think you are crazy and can’t believe you can’t just ‘let go’. It seems implausible that others might struggle with this too. Nevertheless, you are also desperate to find an escape route, even though the thought of change leaves you feeling anxious. 

You are not alone in you struggles. Many people with disordered eating will experience some or all or the above thoughts and feelings. This could be the time to get further support through counselling. Counselling can provide a place of acceptance where you can talk about your struggles without judgement, so beginning to reduce shame. You can also start to understand why you may be using food to cope and to find new strategies for going forward.