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Body image and eating disorders

Getting the balance right

Food is an important part of our lives. For some, how much or how little food they eat becomes the most important thing in their lives. Eating disorders develop when food is used as a way of dealing with personal problems. How much is eaten, when, and where, can sometimes seem like the only thing in their lives that they can control and have a say about.

There are many reasons why people have eating disorders and if your child has a problem, you will need to try to understand what started it in the first place.  Triggers may include abuse (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), bullying, family problems, parents pushing their child too hard at school (people with Anorexia are often high achievers), not being able to express feelings, lack of self-esteem, feelings of self-hatred or guilt, wanting to look like people in magazines and on TV and wanting to be popular. 

Boys as well as girls can be affected.

  1. My daughter avoids meal times and I never seem to see her eat a good meal.
  2. Could she be hiding an eating disorder? Are there changes in her weight and the way she acts?
  3. Chat to her about your concerns. Take an easy approach and try not to judge. Get help if needed.

Warning signs

People with Anorexia: experience excessive weight loss, avoiding food while obsessing about it, pretending to have eaten already, hiding body shape, loss of periods, feeling cold, sleep problems, moodiness, not growing, thinning hair growth and dental problems due to being sick.

People with Bulimia: binge-eating, sore throat and related infections, dental problems from vomiting, missed periods, disappearing after meals, puffy skin, not drinking enough and using laxatives.

What to do

You cannot make somebody eat, but you can give your child the chance to talk about their problems. Let them know that you are there to help. It may also help if you speak to other parents who have gone through similar experiences and to share and support each other.

Girls are more likely to develop eating disorders during their teenage years but boys can be affected too. If your child knows they can talk to you about any worries, they are less likely to use food as a way of dealing with her problems.


Beat is the UK's only nationwide organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders, their family members and friends.  Beat provides helplines, online support and a network of UK-wide self-help groups to help adults and young people in the UK beat their eating disorders.

Helpline: 0845 634 1414

Youthline: 0845 634 7650

Online support: www.b-eat.co.uk

Online support for parents: www.minded.org.uk/families

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