Eating Disorders

In Children and Teens

From the moment we find out that we are pregnant, we are bombarded with the should’s and should not’s of nutrition. Don’t drink alcohol, don’t have caffeine, don’t eat so cheeses, make sure your eggs are thoroughly cooked. Then the baby gets here and it’s the age-old debate of breast versus formula, which is a four-page spread article in itself right? Then it’s weaning. Baby-led or pureed. Moving onto the food served in schools, healthy snacks, possible allergies, trying not to feel like a social pariah,  you take your child to a popular fast food establishment for a not-so-sad meal. organic versus processed. This complex minefield of making the best choices for our children, all in a bid to ensure their optimum health, attempting to find that balance between not too fat and not too thin. But despite our most furtive of efforts, sometimes it can feel as though something isn’t right around the dining table. our child looks red even though they had a great night sleep last night or they’re continually picking at their food and starting to exert a little more control over what goes on their plate. We start to worry. But what are we actually worried about and what are we looking for?

BEAT, the UK’s eating disorder charity, lists 5 main types of eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa – A serious mental health illness where people keep their weight low by dieting, vomiting, exercising to excess or using laxatives
  2. Bulimia –  Another serious mental health illness where people will take on large amounts of food at one me (binging) and then self-inducing vomiting or taking laxatives (purging) to prevent weight gain.
  3. Binge Eating Disorder –  a ritual-like process involving eating to excess, normally with “special” foods, o en associated with periods of high stress, depression and anxiety.
  4. Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) – This is a term o en applied to those who do not full all the criteria of anorexia or bulimia but is nonetheless no less serious a mental health issue.
  5. Disordered Eating / Eating Disorders – This includes Pica (eating things like chalk and dirt); Rumination Disorder (chewing, regurgitating and re-chewing food); Night Eating Disorder (eating majority of food at night or a main meal); Prader-Willi Syndrome (this is a genetic disorder from birth and most likely something a parent is aware of prior to adolescence); Selective Eating Disorder (more often associated with phobias).

It is true that eating disorders do not just affect the individual, but those around them, family members, friends, work colleagues. So what is the best way forward when you suspect that your child is suffering from an eating disorder? First of all, show them love and support. Try not to judge them and definitely do not try to force-feed them or lock food away. See your GP or speak to the school nurse. Try and remember that as worried as you might be, your young person is most likely afraid, confused and desperately in need of therapeutic support and recovery. This is not something to be tackled secretly or without the right expertise, as to do so may create more damage in the long run. Most importantly, DON’T PANIC. There is help out there available to you.

For more information on any of these eating disorders, or for advice on where to get support for you or a child, please go to

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