Worries about weight, shape and appearance are very common among young people. Eating problems aren’t just about food. They can be a way of coping with difficult feelings, which are hard to talk about. Eating disorders commonly start in adolescence and can cause serious long-term emotional and physical health problems.
We all go through times when we find it hard to eat or stop eating because we’re feeling stressed or unhappy. This is normal. Sometimes though, this carries on for a longer period of time and begins to have a serious impact.
The most common types of eating disorders are:
Eating disorders rarely get better on their own and can have a negative impact on home and school life. Although serious, eating disorders are treatable and full recovery is possible. The sooner someone gets the support they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.
Spotting the first signs of an eating disorder is extremely important in encouraging your child or young person to get the help and support they need as quickly as possible.
Anorexia nervosa means means restricting your eating habits because you feel overweight, despite being very low in weight. Signs could be:
Bulimia nervosa is when someone eats large amounts of food in a short space of time and then tries to get rid of it quickly by vomiting, taking laxatives, misusing diet pills or excessive exercise. You may notice the young person:
Binge eating disorder is when someone eats large amounts of food in a short space of time and feels out of control. You may notice:
Not everyone with eating difficulties fits these criteria. One thing to watch out for is to what extent your child or young person’s eating disorder is affecting their lives.
See the SCOFF Questionnaire in the Helpful resources section below: it's a really simple 5 question tool to help non-professionals to assess the possible presence of an eating disorder.
Your child or young person might feel ashamed, embarrassed or scared to talk about what’s happening. Speak to your child or young person if you’re concerned about them. (It’s OK to get it wrong.) Be curious, ask questions but don’t focus on food and weight. Stay calm, be accepting and non-judgmental.
Just remember, living with an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of.
You can also help by encouraging them to:
If you’re concerned, please contact Berkshire Eating Disorders Service for advice.
If you’re worried someone you care about is showing the signs of an eating disorder, the first step is to talk to them and encourage them to seek help from their GP.
Please see our Berkshire Eating Disorders service information page for more information about the support that we offer, and how to make a referral.
The SCOFF Questionnaire
F.E.A.S.T. Around the dinner table forum
What are eating disorders?
Normal healthy eating
Eating disorders: what are the risks?
Body checking and avoidance
Body image and body dissatisfaction
Regular eating for recovery
Eating disorders: information for carers
Calcium and bone health
Carbohydrates: myths and facts
Evaluating dietary advice
Making sense of serving sizes
Vomiting and your health
Metabolism and eating disorders
The facts on fat