CHILDLINE ADVICE: Expert tips on spotting and preventing eating disorders

It's important to be vigilant when it comes to eating disorders in children.It's important to be vigilant when it comes to eating disorders in children.
It's important to be vigilant when it comes to eating disorders in children.
Last year at Childline, worries about body image and eating disorders were among the top ten concerns discussed by young people aged 16 to 18, but with thousands of counselling sessions taking place across all ages.

Eating disorders can come about when people are perhaps trying to regain a perceived sense of control over something, sometimes following a traumatic event.

It’s important to keep this in mind considering lockdown, as children have just faced months of uncertainty which was out of their control.

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Some children might change their eating habits to regain some sense, in their minds, of control over their lives. 

As part of this control, a young person might feel like they want to eat less, or more, to reach a certain goal.

One young person reached out to Childline having recently returned to school, and said: “Basically, I don’t like my body, so I was happy going back to school because at school I don’t normally eat anything.”

This can be a worrying situation for parents, especially now children are back at school and aren’t eating at home like they have been for the past six months. But there are ways that you can help them to stay healthy. 

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If you notice that your child seems withdrawn, and maybe has become secretive about their eating or has fluctuating weight, have an open and honest conversation, share your concerns, ask how they’re feeling. 

Try to assure them that they don’t have to face it alone, and that there are ways that you can support them.

The Childline website has lots of great resources for children, including the art box where young people could write or draw a food diary using bright colours; noting what they eat during the week.

You can work together to prepare healthy meals for home and school, and help them learn about correct portions and new recipes.

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Sources of support include your local GP and, as always, children can access Childline for free, confidential counselling sessions, and speak to other children experiencing similar things using the moderated message boards.

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