Eating Disorders Awareness week 2022 (28th February- 6th March 2022)
It is estimated that eating disorders affect 1 in 50 people in the UK and are known as one of the most serious mental health conditions. Whilst it is true that eating disorders are most common amongst teenage girls, they can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender or background.
The earlier a person gets help and support for an eating disorder, the more likely they are to recover successfully.
Eating problems in children and young people:
Appetites change across different ages and this is completely normal. Some children will eat a lot and some children can be particular about their food, all which can be normal and our relationship with food can change at different stages.
Eating problems can start to emerge when young people feel a degree of stress and pressure. You may see that they may lose their appetite or they may turn to food for comfort. They may also start to express worries about food and relate this to their body size and shape.
When does this become a problem:
When eating difficulties become a problem, these difficulties will often persist and will interfere with a young person’s everyday life. Young people’s problems with food can often begin as a coping strategy for their emotional state, sometimes without even realising it. It becomes a problem when food is used to help cope with distressing feelings and situations and also when it starts to impact physical and mental wellbeing. For example, stress, bereavement, bullying, difficulties in their important relationships (family and peers) and cultural pressures could be some of the things that may play a part in the development of an eating disorder.
It is useful to know that an eating problem is usually symptomatic and this suggests there is an underlying problem that needs to be identified, understood and treated. Signs and symptoms vary from person to person, and will depend upon the type of eating disorder, however you may see a combination of some of the following symptoms…
Symptoms you may see in children and young people:
- Poor concentration
- Behavioural changes- e.g socially withdrawn, mood swings, obsessive about food, changes in eating habits, going to the toilet around meal times
- They may be a picky eater and tend to eat the same meals
- Not wishing to eat with others at meal times or avoiding social situations where food may be involved.
- Distorted beliefs about body image/size
- Long-term weight stagnation (adolescents typically continue to put on weight until the age of 20)
- Delayed signs of puberty. Girls may see changes with their menstrual cycle (it may even stop)
- Changes/fluctuations in weight and/or body shape, especially weight loss of more than one stone in three months
- Sensitivity to aspects of some foods, such as the texture, smell, or temperature.
- Feeling full after only a few mouthfuls and struggling to eat more.
- Compulsive or excessive exercising or other weight controls such as making themselves sick
- Hoarding food
- Eating large quantities of food with no weight gain
- Wearing baggy clothing
- Poor skin, dizziness, feeling cold, feeling faint
If you have concerns regarding your child, going to the GP is one of the most important first steps. If required, they can check health and weight as well as making relevant referrals for further specialist support and treatment if needed. Finding treatment early will give the best chance of fully recovering from an eating disorder.
For more information about specific types of eating disorder and what to look for if you're worried about someone, you can visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk or your local NHS eating disorder