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  • Helly Barnes

"I Never Had Children Because Of An Eating Disorder"

A single tree in a field at sunrise, with mist around it.

A restrictive eating disorder in your mid or later life comes with unique and rarely discussed challenges. This is despite the fact that many people are going through similar struggles. This post is one of a series about eating disorders in mid or later life and it covers the unique challenges you might experience if you have never had children because of an eating disorder.

Issues you might experience if you do have children when you are overcoming a restrictive eating disorder in mid or later life were covered in an earlier post.

No Children Because Of An Eating Disorder

It might be that you decided that you never wanted to have children and whether it was an option or not, you don't feel the eating disorder impacted on this. If that's the case then this post is not going to be as relevant to you, although you might still find some useful titbits in it.

For others, whether you are in a relationship or single, it's possible you always envisioned children in your future and yet, either directly due to the eating disorder or other life circumstances, you have never had them. You might feel now that it's too late to have children, even if you did make meaningful and rapid progress to overcome the eating disorder.

Wherever you place yourself on this 'child-free' spectrum, you are likely to experience some tough emotions. But maybe there are also some resulting opportunities.

Some reasons that an eating disorder can stop you from having children are given below, followed by common resulting emotions and ideas for how to move forwards.

Of course, some of the emotions and challenges discussed aren't unique to people with eating disorders, but an eating disorder can be a significant extra-aggravating factor.

Reasons An Eating Disorder Can Stop You From Having Children

Fertility Issues

Whether you are in a relationship or not, the eating disorder might have caused fertility issues that made it very hard to conceive and/or carry a pregnancy to term. If you have had fertility issues created or exacerbated as a result of the eating disorder, whether you are male or female, it has likely resulted in painful emotions. These can include anger towards the eating disorder, your body or yourself or a sense of having let others down. This is discussed in more detail below.

Never Having Felt 'Well Enough' And Now It's 'Too Late'

I know that many of you who read this blog are in your mid or later life years and have had eating disorders for decades. Some of you might not be able to remember a time that the eating disorder didn't affect you. When you were younger, perhaps you always thought that you would have children when you were 'well enough' but as the eating disorder maintained its grip, that day never came and time drifted away. Now you find it's too late to have children, even if you did recover. This can create some uniquely hard emotions, including anger towards your younger self. But your younger self didn't have the benefit of hindsight that you do now.

Single And No Children

It's possible that the eating disorder made it impossible for you to establish or maintain a relationship with a partner. Eating disorders often make people isolate themselves, avoid social situations, have daily rituals that a relationship would disrupt or can create a loss of libido so the idea of a sexual relationship is unappealing. Therefore, having a life partner and a conventional family might never have been possible for you. Now you find yourself in your mid or later life, single and never having had the opportunity for a child. This can result in its own kind of loneliness if many of your peers have children and there is an ongoing societal expectation that we should.

Emotions That Arise When You Never Had Children Because Of An Eating Disorder

Feelings Of Failure Or Anger

You might experience feelings of failure if you always wanted children but the eating disorder stopped you. Perhaps you blame yourself for not having recovered from the eating disorder in time to have the children you wanted. Maybe you feel angry towards yourself, others, the eating disorder or health professionals because you have had this eating disorder for so long and it's stolen valuable life opportunities. But deep down, I know that you know that the feelings of failure are not justified. You are not a failure. An eating disorder isn't a life choice and anger won't serve you. Anger towards yourself, others or even the eating disorder will hurt you more than anyone and I know that you already hurt enough.

Grief For The Children you Haven't Had

The grief for the family you have never had can be intense. You might find that you have experienced intense feelings of loss or sadness for the children that you never had and yet always envisioned and wanted. The pain of grieving for the things we have never known can be as intense as the pain we feel for something we have known, loved and lost. If you feel a sense of grief for not having had children or a family of your own, allow yourself to feel those emotions and acknowledge them. They are valid.

Guilt That Your Partner Or Wider Family Also Miss Out

You might also feel guilt because the eating disorder prevented you having children and this has not only had an impact on you but on others you care about too. Perhaps you have a partner who wanted to start a family with you and yet this wasn't possible. Or maybe your parents always spoke with excitement about being grandparents one day and you experience guilt that you haven't given them the grandchild they might have loved to spoil. These feelings of guilt and sadness for what others might also be missing out on can be intense. But remember that none of this is your fault. An eating disorder isn't your fault. People can't have children for all kinds of reasons and that can give rise to grief but the guilt isn't valid.

Difficulty Being Around Others With Children

It's likely that you are going to experience times when you have to be around others with children and cope with the emotions that arise. You might be with friends or your siblings and their families, hearing about their busy lives with children running about the place. This might leave you feeling like the outsider on the edge of a group. People who have never experienced the same are unlikely to realise the range of emotions you are sitting with. And yes, you can be in love with the nieces, nephews and other key children in your life but still feel sadness for what you are missing out on. Again, it's ok to have these feelings. The temptation though might be to avoid situations with young children present but this can make the eating disorder stronger as eating disorders love to make people isolate themselves and push others away. Acknowledge that you are feeling the emotions that are there but try to still face these situations, feel what you need to feel, talk about what is coming up and appreciate the positives of being part of these groups.

More Life Opportunities Gone So What's The Point of Recovery?

When you are trying to find motivation to recover from the eating disorder and build a strong enough 'why' for recovery that will pull you through the tough recovery days, you might feel despair and as if too many life opportunities have gone. You might ask if there's still any point to recovering. I believe that it's never too late to recover and to build a life with so much more freedom and good things. Even if the opportunity to have children of your own is now behind you, there are so many other ways to bring fulfilment and love into your future. You just need to be strong enough to find them.

Moving Towards A Hopeful Future

Accepting What Is, Even Though It's Hard

Perhaps one of the easiest things to say but hardest to do is to find ways to accept your reality. People might say, "let it go" and "you just have to accept that having children wasn't a direction that your life was supposed to take", but processing these painful emotions and finding your way through can take time. A key first step in accepting that you won't be a parent now is acknowledging your feelings of grief and loss. Grief for things we have lost are emotions that exist to show us what was or would have been important to us but that we don't have. These emotions exist for a reason and it's important to acknowledge and work through them. The acceptance process might then involve recognising the fact that some sadness might always be there but building a future anyway.

Focus On The Benefits of Being Child-Free

I'm always an advocate of focusing on the positives in life, especially as a way to build a future that brings greater fulfilment. Just as there are wonderful things about being a parent and having children in your life (or so I'm told!), there are also downsides. And just as you might feel sadness and feelings of loss about not having had children, there are positives to being child-free. Exploring the positives can help you to manage your sense of loss. For example, not having children opens a world of potential when it comes to traveling, which admittedly is just not so easy with children. You will likely have less financial constraints without children and have more opportunities to explore aspects of life that meet your values and passions. Any parent will tell you that having children comes with a whole world full of new worries and stress. Being child-free means that you don't have this to contend with. Focus on all the things that you can do in your life because you don't have children—things that your peers with kids might envy you for. Indulge in these things, soak up the positives about them and let them help you to build a hopeful, child-free future.

Love and Fulfilment in Life Comes in Many Forms

Of course children can and do bring love and laughter to the lives of their parents but love and laughter in our lives can come in a range of forms. Explore all the ways that you can find a sense of love, fun and laughter in your life and embrace all that your life can be.

And… Families Come in Different Forms

Many people think of the word, 'family' and bring up an image of a couple with two or three children… That's the traditional way that many people do build families but it's not the only way to get a sense of connection and 'family' in your life. Explore what family can mean beyond having your own children and build connections to people or pets, places or communities, that give you your own unique sense of being part of a family.

Embrace your Future as a Hero!

Your future is out there for you to grab. Beat the eating disorder, find your freedom from it and life can be so fabulous, no matter how old you are or what life opportunities you might have lost to it. Decide you will be a hero and not a victim. While you bash the eating disorder out, grab all the things in life that really light you up and align with your values, so that you truly can thrive.

Most Importantly - Talk to Others

Perhaps the most important factor in your ability to process difficult emotions such as grief, guilt or anger is talking to others about what you are going through or have been through. That might be a partner, friends, family, a health professional or therapist. They say talking helps because it really can.


An eating disorder can take a lot from your life. Opportunities can be forever stolen by an eating disorder. If you are in your mid or later life years and have had an eating disorder for a significant length of time, then the possibility of having children of your own might be one life opportunity that you have missed out on. That can hurt. It can hurt a lot—something I know first hand. And maybe some level of pain will always be there and maybe that's ok.

But life goes on and it's important to grow and find all the free life opportunities that are still out there waiting for you as you recover, find fulfilment and thrive in all the ways that you definitely still can.

**Have you read my books yet?

For more information on eating disorders and how to overcome one, please don't miss,


If you like to listen, as well as, or instead of read, then this blog post is the transcript of a podcast episode which you will find on my podcast series,

available on this website, all mainstream podcast platforms and on YouTube.


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