Supporting Your Child With Eating Problems
If you're worried your child has an eating disorder, or unhealthy relationship with food, here is our advice and information on where you can get help.
How can I help my child?
Children’s attitudes to eating are affected by a range of factors including the attitudes and behaviours of parent and peers towards food, nutrition and body image, trauma, stress, and bullying. Appetites may change at different ages and this is normal; some eat a lot or eat anything, others are more particular. Younger children often refuse to eat certain foods and teenagers may try 'fad diets'. Most of us have tried out different eating habits or diets at some time in our lives, whether to lose or put on weight, or to improve our health and this is not necessarily a cause for concern.
Problems can start to emerge when a child or young person feels under pressure. They may lose their appetite; or they may turn to food for comfort and eat even when they are not hungry; their worries about food may be related to their size or body shape, or can be more about their emotions and self-esteem.
Young people’s problems with food can begin as a coping strategy for times when they are bored, anxious, angry, lonely, ashamed or sad. Food becomes a problem when it is used to help cope with painful situations or feelings, or to relieve stress, perhaps without even realising it. Children can fear getting fat and may perceive their body shape differently than those around them. It is useful to know that an eating problem is usually symptomatic and suggests there is an underlying problem that needs to be identified, understood and treated.
Young people with eating disorders often consider them to be a solution rather than a problem, making identification and treatment more difficult. They tend to have extreme concerns and sense of self-worth in terms of body shape and weight. If you're worried about your child there are things you can do to help.
These are things that may really make a difference:
- Be aware that many young people may deny they have a problem. They may try to keep it a secret, and find it difficult to accept they need help.
- Go to the GP. Make notes about your main concerns ahead of the appointment. The GP will make an assessment and if they think your child needs specialist help, they should be able to refer the young person to a mental health professional specialising in this area.
- There are many different types of treatment, depending on the nature of the eating disorder and the symptoms. Treatment can includes dietary control as well as individual and family therapy, aimed at resolving underlying emotional problems.
- If the young person has lost a great deal of weight, or other help seems not to work, they may need to spend some time in hospital or a special unit, where treatment can be more closely monitored.
- Ask family and friends to help support a young person with an eating disorder, particularly by talking to them about their feelings and everyday problems.
- Young people unwilling to accept help from their parents may find it easier to talk to a teacher at school.
Where can I get help?
- Information and support for people with eating disorders and their families
- Adult line: 0808 801 0677 (weekdays 9am - 8pm; weekend and bank holidays 4pm - 8pm) for over 18s who need support and information relating to an eating disorder, including sufferers, carers and professionals.
- Email: [email protected]
- Under 25s Youthline: 0808 801 0711 (weekdays 9am - 8pm; weekend and bank holidays 4pm - 8pm)
- Email: [email protected]
- Put your postcode into HelpFinder for your local support options
- Supports people affected by eating disorders and their families.
- Helpline 03000 11 12 13 (option 1: support line, option 2: family and friends)
- Clinical guidelines for recognition and treatment of eating disorders
- Information and videos about eating disorders
- Lists of local services for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
- Can help local services which provide counselling to young people aged 12-25.