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Updated : August 1, 2022 3.5 mins read

Eating disorder | Support for families and carers

Updated : August 1, 2022 3.5 mins read

Article Eating disorders

Supporting a young person with an eating disorder can feel heart breaking for a parent or caregiver. An eating disorder is a complex illness where the perceived problem is also the solution; food. Disordered eating behaviours can lead to a young person feeling constantly anxious or in fear of the next meal time, especially if they feel that some one has noticed a change in their behaviour or eating habits.

Eating disorders develop when a person can’t cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. If a young person feels out of control or lost, restricting their food intake and changing how their body looks may make them feel more in control or worthwhile.

Signs your child might have an eating disorder

  • Refusing certain food types, especially carbs, fats, junk food.
  • Late night eating or getting up in the night and eating large amounts of food
  • Changes in eating habits. Wanting to eat on their own or skipping family meals
  • Starting to exercise outside of what would be considered healthy. This can include not eating before doing a certain amount of exercise or need to walk/run after eating
  • Change in language or attitudes around food or eating. Speaking negatively about food or that certain foods make them fat
  • Sudden weight loss or extreme weight loss over time
  • Preferring to have protein or diet shakes rather than actual meals
  • Watching you prepare and cook meals for them or not letting you do it and needing to make meals themselves
  • Becoming frustrated if you don’t use certain low calorie foods or oils when preparing meals
  • Developing habits that suppress appetites; drinking lots of green tea, smoking, diet shakes and pills
  • Appearing constantly tired or lacking energy
  • Fainting
  • Following pro eating disorder websites or social media accounts

How to talk to your child about eating disorders

It can be difficult for parents and caregivers to understand why an eating disorder starts. You just want your child to be happy and healthy, seeing the devastating impact of an eating disorder can lead to parents feeling frustrated, helpless and like they are forcing their child to do something they don’t want to.

Here are some tips for talking to your child about eating disorders:

  • Avoid phrases such as “just eat this” or “just stop making yourself sick”.
  • Don’t give your child ultimatums to get them to eat, this might enforce the eating disorder cycle or make them more withdrawn from talking to you.
  • Don’t get angry with your child, they are not doing this for attention or on purpose. Eating disorders are serious illness which often need professional support to overcome
  • Give them lots of reassurance, love and support.
  • Try to understand what has led to the eating disorder starting. Remember it’s not always about the food, it’s about finding ways to cope.
  • Encourage them to accept help
  • Get help and support for yourself

Getting help for your child

When a person has an eating disorder, they can feel like they’re not unwell enough or not deserving of help. You should always try and get your child to agree to see a GP or professional however there might times where you need to act in their best interest if you are worried that they are at serious risk.

You can get help for your child through:

  • GP
  • Child & Adolescent Mental Health services, CAMHs
  • Eating disorder support groups
  • Eating disorder charities

Eating disorder charities


Designed for parents and families with a young person with a eating disorder

You will likely be involved in the treatment and recovery plans for your child’s eating disorder.

Talking therapies, including family therapy are proven to be helpful in helping people to understand what leads to the eating disorder starting.

Your child might need help to prepare and keep to recovery meal plans. These plans will be based around foods that will provide them with extra energy to recover and depending on their age stimulate growth and development.

Get Help now

If you are concerned about your mental health, or if you have found yourself feeling concerned about someone else, you can:

Call 111 – NHS 24

Call 116 123 – The Samaritans

Call 0800 83 85 87 – Breathing Space

Text: ‘YM’ to 85258 – Young Minds crisis chat

If you think you are in danger of hurting yourself or other people, you should call 999 or present to your local A&E department.