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Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is when someone has an unhealthy relationship with food and/or their bodies, which can take over their life and make them very unwell. An eating disorder could mean they are eating too much or too little. They may make themselves sick or exercise a lot. They may also think about their weight and body shape a lot. As a parent or carer it can be extremely worrying and confusing to think your child maybe developing or suffering from 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 have experienced negative comments about their eating habits, body shape or weight.
  • They talk about wanting to be slim or thin a lot, or wish to have a muscular build
  • They may have anxiety and low self esteem and possible low mood symptoms
  • They have experienced a significant life event, such as physical and chronic illness.
  • They have experienced loss including bereavement or parental separation
  • They have experienced sexual abuse
  • Difficulties at home or at school such as friendship problems or feeling pressured.

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

  • It can be really upsetting as a parent or carer to watch your child deal with an eating disorder. It can be a frustrating and confusing experience and you may not know where to find support. With the right help, young people can recover from their eating disorder and with your care you can help them get through this difficult time. 

    Signs to look out for include;

    • Big changes in their weight
    • Lying about how much and when they have eaten, or how much they weigh
    • Eating a lot of food very fast
    • Drinking lots of water to stop them feeling hungry
    • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed
    • Obsessively exercising 
    • Very tired and sleepy with little energy
    • Avoiding eating with others
    • Cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
    • Wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss.
    • Avoiding PE at school where they may have to change

    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 your GP.

  • 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.  Try to encourage them to seek help or offer to go along with them.

    Sometimes writing things down before visiting the GP is helpful. A GP would be happy to read a letter if this helps and makes the visit easier. They may still need to ask you some questions but will understand that this is a worrying time for you.

    Other ways you can support your young person;

    • Try to include them in activities. They may not want to join in, but keep trying to include them, just like before. This will make them feel loved and valued.
    • Build up their self esteem. Tell them what a great person they are and how much you appreciate having them in your life.
    • Listen to them and try not to give advice or criticise them. This can be really hard if you think what they are doing is hurting them. Just try and be there for them.

    While you can’t force a person with an eating disorder to change, you can offer your support and encourage them to get help. This can make a huge difference to your child's recovery.

  • If your child is suffering from an eating disorder, your child should see their GP to see what might help them mostTalking to your child’s school is a good idea as well. 

    Letting other people know will help you and your child get the support they need. They may want you to be there for support or find it easier to talk without you there  ask them what would help the most.

    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.

    *Click here* to find out about mental health advice and support available in Norfolk and Waveney.


Who Can Help?

When they are ready, they may need to get support from the GP, you could offer to go along with them for support. If at any point you are worried that your young person is making them self seriously ill then call 111 

Eating Matters is a Norfolk Charity offering counselling to people with mild to moderate eating disorders in the community - call 01603 767062

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480635060 for confidential advice from one of our Healthy Child Programme team.

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

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

It may also be helpful to speak to the young person’s head of year or a teacher with pastoral responsibility so they can offer further support in school.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

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

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