Lots of people have different eating habits and forgetting to eat for a day or having a blow-out aren’t signs of an eating problem, nor is occasionally going on a diet.
Trying to control what or how much you eat very strictly or having urges to eat and then making yourself sick (bulimia) are signs that you could have an eating problem.
Eating problems are common and can affect anyone of any body shape or lifestyle. They can be triggered by a number of things, but you can often develop an eating problem when other parts of your life don’t feel right.
Worry or stress can trigger eating problems as can the feeling of being out of control in other areas of your life. Being able to control how much or what you eat can give you back that feeling of order. (Young Minds)
Symptoms of eating problems
Some eating problems such as Anorexia and Bulimia are serious mental health conditions that need professional help to diagnose and treat. Some eating problems are signs of normal eating behaviour but they happen more often or to an extreme degree:
- Losing appetite
- Eating when not hungry
- Obsessing about body image (e.g. being too fat, not being muscly enough)
- Eating only certain types of things or following a ‘fad’ diet too closely
- Fear of gaining weight
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Being sick
- No longer enjoying eating socially or leaving the table quickly (to be sick or hide food)
- Focusing on buying or cooking food for others
- Feeling secretive
Just because someone is experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean they are definitely affected by an eating problem but if they are affecting everyday life, seek advice from a GP to get a full diagnosis. (YoungMinds)
Mealtimes can be particularly difficult. You may find the following advice helpful:
(if your child is in treatment, ask their treatment team for advice on how to cope with mealtimes)
- consider going shopping together and agreeing on meals that are acceptable to you both
- agree with the family that none of you will talk about portion sizes, calories or the fat content of the meal
- avoid eating low-calorie or diet foods in front of them or having them in the house
- try to keep the atmosphere light-hearted and positive throughout the meal, even if you don’t feel that way on the inside
- if your child attempts to get too involved in cooking the meal as a way of controlling it, gently ask them to set the table or wash up instead
- try not to focus too much on them during mealtimes – enjoy your own meal and try to make conversation
- a family activity after the meal, such as a game or watching TV, can help to distract them from wanting to purge or over exercise
- don’t despair if a meal goes badly – just move on (NHS)
Support your child
If your child is having treatment for their condition, the treatment team will play an essential part in their recovery. But don’t underestimate the importance of your love and support.
It may help to:
- learn as much as possible about eating disorders, so you understand what you’re dealing with
- emphasise that you love them and will always be there for them, no matter what
- make them aware of the range of professional help available, and say you’ll support them through it
- suggest activities they could do that don’t involve food, such as hobbies and days out with friends
- ask them what you can do to help
- try to be honest about your own feelings – this will encourage them to do the same
- be a good role model by eating a balanced dietand doing a healthy amount of exercise
- try to build their confidence – for example, praise them for being thoughtful or congratulate them on an achievement at school (NHS)
If you are concerned about your child’s eating, please seek support and advice through taking your child to their GP’s and contacting school so support can be put into place.
The following website links have valuable information to help support your child: