Children & Young People's Emotional Health

Eating Disorders

If you think your child may be suffering from an eating disorder, it can be a confusing and scary time. You might be feeling helpless, and even angry, about what is happening to your child.

An eating disorder is when someone has an unhealthy relationship with food and/or their bodies. This can take over their life and make them very unwell.

Eating disorders are quite common and those with an eating disorder may be secretive and try to hide their eating or weight. They may also deny being unwell.

An eating disorder can develop at any age, but it is most common between the ages of 13 and 17.

Let your child know you're worried about them and encourage them to talk to someone. They may not be comfortable talking to you, but think with them about other trusted adults who might help.

Dive Deeper

What Can Cause An Eating Disorder?

We do not know exactly what causes an eating disorder, but someone could be more likely to develop an eating disorder if;

  • They may have experienced negative comments about their eating, body shape or weight.
  • They talk about wanting to be slim or thin a lot, or wish to have a muscular build.
  • They may be anxious and experiencing low moods.
  • They may have been through a big life event, such as an injury or long illness or lost someone close to them.
  • They have experienced sexual abuse.
  • They may be having difficulties at home or at school such as friendship problems or feeling pressured.

Signs Of An Eating Disorder

Signs to look out for include;

  • Big changes in their weight.
  • Not telling the truth about how much and when they have eaten. They may hide food or eat in secret. 
  • Eating food very slowly and asking for smaller meals.
  • Avoiding eating with others and becoming anxious about eating in public.
  • Drinking lots of water to stop them feeling hungry.
  • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating.
  • Weighing themselves many times a day.
  • Exercising more and finding ways to exercise after food.
  • Very tired and sleepy with little energy to do things.
  • Using diet pills or laxatives to help lose weight
  • Wearing baggy or unsuitable clothes to hide their weight loss.
  • Avoiding PE at school where they may have to change their clothes.

Please remember a young person does not have to have every sign or symptom listed above and this is only an example. If you have concerns please see/speak to your GP.

What To Do If You Feel Concerned

Finding out more about eating disorders is a great first step in helping your child. It shows you care and helps you understand how they might be feeling. The best thing for any young person to do is to get early professional help, but this is often the hardest step to take.  

A good first step is to contact your child’s GP to talk things through. You could do this alone, with your child, or your child may choose to go into the appointment by themselves. Sometimes writing things down before visiting the GP is helpful way for them to share their feelings. If they are worried, they can often forget what to say at the appointment. A GP would be happy to read a letter if this helps and makes the visit easier. They may still need to ask them some questions but will understand that this is a worrying time your child.

A Carers Perspective Short Film

Social media is often a big part of a young person's life and it can often feel that they are glued to their phones. As a parent/carer if you are worried about who your child is contacting on their phone, talk to them. You can always check who they are messaging.

It can be hard to understand all of the current social media platforms, so if you need to talk about your young person's internet use or are worried about who they are talking to online, you can always contact us for advice and guidance.

Who can Help?

You may need to get support from the GP, offer to go along with your child. If at any point you are worried that your child or young person is making them self seriously ill, call 111.

It may be helpful to speak to your child’s Head of Year or teacher, to see what support they can offer in school.

You can also contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support. 

Childline - Children and young people under 19 can call 0800 1111 for free support.

Young Minds Parents Helpline - Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri from 9.30am to 4pm.

Below are some other organisations who can offer help and support:

  • Feast is a global organisation who are there to help you understand your child's eating disorder, support you in helping them get appropriate treatment, and get you the information you need to help them recover and thrive.
  • Eating Matters is a Norfolk Charity offering counselling to people with mild to moderate eating disorders in the community - call 01603 767062.
  • Beat Eating disorders is the UK's leading eating disorder charity. Your young person may feel more comfortable talking to someone else. The helpline is open 365 days a year from 9am–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.

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