I’m worried about my child’s eating habits

Everyone has different eating habits. But if you’re worried about your child’s relationship with food or their body, it might be worth looking for some support.

If your child’s eating habits negatively affect their everyday life, they may have an eating disorder. This is when someone uses food to cope with certain situations or feelings. Teenagers between 13 and 17 are most at risk, but anyone can have an eating disorder.

It can be helpful to know the signs and what to do if you’re worried about your child.

Signs of an eating disorder

Your child’s eating habits are likely to change over time. This is normal, and you can help them develop a healthy relationship with food. But they may have an eating disorder if they:

  • Make themselves sick.
  • Binge eat (often eating lots of food very fast).
  • Avoid eating when around others.
  • Are secretive about food.
  • Worry about their weight or size.
  • Exercise in a way that seems excessive.
  • Appear underweight for their age and height.

You may also notice some changes in behaviour. You child might be more irritable, have mood swings, or feel guilt or shame. They may show signs of low self-esteem.

Some examples of eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. There are many types of disorder and not everyone will experience the same symptoms. People can have other physical or mental health issues at the same time.

How you can help

Try to get an understanding what your child may be going through. Offer a supportive environment to tackle any challenges they’re facing.

Educate yourself on what it means to have a difficult relationship with food. The charity Beat has some information on different types of eating disorder. The website also includes real-life stories of people’s experiences, a chat room, and information on workshops for parents.

Get support

  • Seek advice from your GP. They may be able to refer your child to CAMHS, or you can do this yourself. You can also find local NHS eating disorder support services online.
  • If your child is OK with you speaking to their school, this could help ensure they’re getting support during the day.
  • Help your child understand that they’re not alone. If they don’t want to speak to you, let them know there’s other support available. They can use sites like YoungMinds and The Mix for information and advice. Kooth is an online community for young people, and offers a live chat service. Or Beat has a list of helplines and a chat service.
  • If you think your child’s condition poses an immediate risk to their life, call 999.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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