How do I know if my child has an eating disorder, and what can I do?
Eating disorders are often a very hidden and secretive illness, making it hard for parents/carers to know if their child has a eating problem. Some signs of the difficulty include:
- Pushing food around their plate or not eating their meals
- Serious unexplained weight loss
- Hiding food i.e. under their bed
- Leaving the table quickly after meals i.e. to vomit
- Wearing loose fitting clothes to hide their weight loss
- Only eating small amounts of low calorie foods
- Food going missing from the kitchen in large amounts (to binge on)
- Showing signs they’re unhappy with their body or weight
Try and talk to your child about their feelings and problems. They may be hesitant to open up to you, in which case they can speak to a school nurse or teacher about their problems, and be referred into our service. Please see the leaflets on this page for more help and advice.
What causes eating problems?
Causes for an eating disorder can be biological as well as environmental. The factors are usually complex and may involve those factors that provoke the disorder as well as those that continue it.
Risk factors that can make someone more likely to have an eating disorder include:
- Having a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
- Being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight
- Being overly concerned with being slim, particularly if combined with pressure to be slim from society or for a job (for example ballet dancers, models or athletes)
- Certain characteristics, for example, having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
- Particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse, or the death of someone special
- Difficult relationships with family members or friends
- Stressful situations, for example problems at work, school or university
How can we help?
We will assess your child’s needs, and treatment may include the following, according to their needs:
- Family therapy to support all family members to understand the illness and
find ways of making a difference to help the young person to recovery
- Multi-family group therapy (four consecutive days of intensive therapy alongside other families managing the similar difficulties)
- Appointments with the local paediatrician to make sure the illness does not impact severely on physical well-being
Restricting food and remaining underweight for a prolonged amount of time can be extremely dangerous to the body and its vital organs. A paediatrician will review the young person regularly to keep them as safe as possible.
- Psychiatry to make sure there is nothing we are missing and to prescribe medication when helpful
- Individual therapy to work closely with the young person and look at how thoughts affect feelings, which in turn affect behaviours. This also helps to build a relationship where the young person can begin to share thoughts and feelings that get in the way of recovery
- A dietician will help understand exactly how much and what type of food needs to be eaten to regain weight and to recover from the effects of an eating disorder
- Supported meals at home. It is sometimes helpful to have a support worker visit the home to offer encouragement at mealtimes and to support the parent or carer in taking on this difficult role
Your GP will remain involved at all times to support the young person and their family towards recovery.
Our therapies are helpful and proven, and we strive to offer the most effective treatments to help overcome the eating disorder. However, as all families are different, we will also ask you to complete outcome measures to help us understand how therapy is progressing.
What happens next?
Once the request for service has been accepted you will be offered an initial assessment either urgently (within 7 days) or within 6 weeks. This initial appointment is an opportunity for you to tell us about the difficulties and together we can assess what we might need to do next. Sometimes a single appointment is all that is needed but if you do need a series of appointments we will assign a clinician with the appropriate skills and work in partnership with you. Sometimes more specialist intervention is needed and we will discuss this with you so that you are clear about what happens next.
Follow up appointments should be offered within 12 weeks of referral.
You can now self-refer your child into this service. For more information please view this guide on how to self refer.
For details of what the service supports and what supporting documentation you require for your referral, please view the request criteria page.