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What are eating problems?

You may have days when you just don’t feel like eating, or maybe you are binging on food some days and not eating much on others. Have you noticed a loss of appetite because you’re feeling blue? Or, when you feel stressed out, do you turn to food to make yourself feel better? These things can be signs of eating problems, or even an eating disorder.

Although everyone experiences stress or sadness at some point, people respond to these emotions differently. Some Veterans may find that, because they feel down, they're having trouble eating. Others may find that eating when they're sad or depressed makes them feel better, but then they feel more upset later for overeating.

“After talking to my counselor, I realized I was eating food as a way to get comfort. It wasn’t until my counselor pointed it out to me that I saw my eating issues were really related to how I was handling stress.”

If left unchecked, eating problems can affect your health and the way you feel about yourself, and they could lead to unhealthy weight loss or gain. Eating problems may also be related to other conditions that should be addressed, such as chronic pain, guilt, depression, and problems with drugs. These challenges can contribute to eating problems and also make it hard to follow your doctor's dietary recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. In some cases, what or how you eat can make other problems worse or reduce the effectiveness of medications.

If I’m experiencing eating problems, what can I do about it right away?

  • Try to find healthy ways of managing stress, such as taking a walk, going for a run, talking to a friend, practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing or meditation, or doing something nice for yourself, like watching a movie or reading a magazine.
  • Eat regular, healthful meals and snacks to maintain your appetite and reduce the likelihood of overeating.
  • Work to improve your health overall. Exercise regularly and get the right amount of sleep — seven to nine hours each night is ideal for most adults.

Talking to your family and friends can be a good first step. You may want to talk to them about what you're experiencing. They may be able to provide support and help you to find solutions for your eating problems that are right for you. Having someone's support as you improve your eating habits can be very helpful.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for eating disorders. If eating problems are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage eating problems even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • A dietitian or nutritionist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans with eating problems.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to eating problems, such as stress and anxiety, depression, problems with drugs, posttraumatic stress, and bipolar disorder.

AfterDeployment
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for stress and other issues they commonly experience.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-life-stress

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Eating problems may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1