Living with an eating disorder can be isolating, and many people struggle in secret for years before reaching out for help. Maybe your friends and family members don’t know you have an eating disorder because you’ve become so skilled at hiding it. Or maybe they do know, but they don’t fully understand what it’s like for you.
When you live with an eating disorder, it can feel like it has taken over your whole life. You might spend so much time thinking about your self-perceived flaws and counting your calories that there is little time to think about anything else. Or maybe you spend half the day planning what to eat during a binge session, then half the night racked with guilt and shame for what you have done.
For these reasons and more, eating disorders are extremely damaging to your mental health. They isolate you from your loved ones and force you into an endless cycle of anxiety, shame, and guilt. People with eating disorders are often afraid to seek treatment because they are afraid of gaining weight or losing what has become a lifeline for dealing with extreme emotional pain. But left untreated, eating disorders can get much, much worse.
Learn More About Behavioral Health
Behavioral health is an umbrella term that refers to your overall wellbeing and how it is impacted by your behaviors. Behavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions, the behaviors of which you are unable to resist the urge to repeat, despite negative consequences. Changing your addictive behaviors directly influences your life, then, by lessening or removing the symptoms of the behavioral addiction. Read More
How Does Calling Help?
You are not alone in your eating disorder struggles—many others feel the pain and understand how difficult it is. Fortunately, there is hope through the many treatment options available to you.
Talking about your situation in a non-judgmental setting can help you decide what to do next.
However, too many people go without mental health and behavioral health treatment because they don’t know where to start. Hotlines can be a great way to fight through all the noise and get clear answers.
If you are considering suicide or are simply tired of fighting your eating disorder, reaching out is good first step. When you call a hotline, you will either speak with a counselor or a specially trained volunteer. First and foremost, the person who answers your call is there to listen and help however they can.
Talking about your situation in a non-judgmental setting can help you process your feelings and decide what to do next. Most helplines are anonymous and confidential, so you can feel comfortable to freely share your story.
Although there are a lot of hotlines, choosing which one to call doesn’t have to be difficult. Some hotlines may be associated with specific treatment centers or recovery programs, while other helplines run by non-profit organizations or government offices, such as SAMHSA, can give you an independent referral.
Different helplines focus on different issues. Some are for suicide prevention and crisis situations (but you do not have to be in a crisis when you call) and others give referrals to therapists and other treatment programs. Hotlines that specialize in eating disorders can be particularly helpful, because they speak with people like you every day. Regardless of where you call, the trained counselors on these phone lines will be there to listen to you and point you in the direction of the help you need.
Eating Disorder Hotline Listings
If you or someone you love is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.
Call: (800) 273-TALK (8255)
En Español: 1-888-628-9454
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will be connected to the crisis center nearest you. People call to discuss all types of problems, including eating disorders, relationships, sexual identity, and loneliness.
Chat: NEDA Click-to-Chat
Crisis Text Line: text “NEDA” to 741741
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline is available to provide support Monday–Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If no one is available when you call, leave a message and your call will be returned as soon as possible. They are closed to observe some holidays.
NEDA’s helpline is a free and confidential service. Volunteers have extensive training and are prepared to help you find information, support, and treatment options.
Call: (800) 662-HELP (4357)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental health disorders and substance or behavioral addictions.
SAMHSA’s Helpline does not provide counseling and emotional support, but their trained specialists can transfer you to an appropriate intake center in your state or connect you with local assistance and support. They can refer you to therapists, counselors, treatment programs, and support groups in your area.
Call: (800) 950-NAMI (6264)
The NAMI Helpline is available Monday–Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. Helpline staff and volunteers are there to answer your questions about mental health issues, including symptoms of eating disorders and mental health conditions, treatment options, behavioral health issues, programs to help find jobs, legal issues, and how to help a loved one get treatment.
They do not provide counseling and cannot give specific treatment recommendations, but they can answer questions about local support groups and services. In the event of a crisis, your call will be transferred to a national crisis helpline.
Call: (630) 577-1330
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders’ (ANAD) helpline is available Monday–Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST. Trained ANAD volunteers are available to help you in whatever way they can. If you suspect you might have an eating disorder, are worried about someone you love, need help stopping a binge, or just need help getting through a meal, give them a call.
Text: Text “hello” to 741741
A free, confidential, 24/7 text line for people in crisis. You will receive an automated text asking you what your crisis is, and within minutes you will be connected to a live counselor. The person on the other end will help calm you down and get you into a safe state of mind. People text the crisis line for all types of problems. If you feel you need emotional support, but are nervous about talking on the phone, this is a good place to start.
More About Behavioral Addictions
Eating disorders and food-related behavioral addictions can develop in anyone, regardless of gender, age, or socioeconomic status. Common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder (BED). Many people mistakenly believe that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice, made mostly by women and girls, but eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
Food-related behavioral addictions, such as food and exercise addiction, also present in both genders. Men who participate in sports in which weight can affect performance, such as wrestling, gymnastics, or long-distance running, are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Similarly, actors, dancers, and other people in the performing arts often develop eating disorders because of the intense scrutiny on their appearance.1
There are several different types of eating disorders—some involving undereating and some involving overeating—but they all share a few features. First, people with eating disorders are abnormally preoccupied with food and body image. They are typically terrified of gaining weight, regardless of whether they are thin, average, or heavy. Many people with eating disorders are highly secretive and feel a great deal of shame about their behavior.
The following is a list of some common signs and symptoms of eating disorders:2
- Extreme weight loss
- Compulsory exercise
- Extremely restricted eating
- Distorted image of body shape and weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Unwillingness to maintain normal weight
- Sore throat
- Swollen jaw/neck area
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during/after meals
- Callouses on hands (from stomach acid)
- Signs of binge eating
- Discoloration of teeth
- Intense fear of gaining weight
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
- Evidence of missing food or empty food wrappers
- Secretive eating (at night, in car)
- Skipping meals or taking small portions at mealtime
- Periodic dieting or fasting
- Eating until the point of pain or discomfort
- Adjusting schedules or rituals for binge sessions
- Lock, J. & La Via, M. C. (2015). Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with eating disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(5), 412–425.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Eating Disorders.