Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
North Wales Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
Worries about weight, shape and eating are common, especially among young girls. Being very overweight or obese can cause a lot of problems, particularly with health. Quite often, someone who is overweight can lose weight simply by eating more healthily. It sounds easy, but help may be needed to find a way of doing this.
What are eating disorders?
A lot of young people, many of whom are not overweight in the first place, want to be thinner. They often try to lose weight by dieting or skipping meals. For some, worries about weight become an obsession. This can turn into a serious eating disorder. This information is about the most common eating disorders – anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Both of these eating disorders are more common in girls, but do occur in boys. They can happen in young people of all backgrounds and cultures.
What are the signs of anorexia or bulimia?
You may notice some or most of the below signs:
It may be difficult for parents or teachers to tell the difference between ordinary dieting in young people and a more serious problem. If you are concerned about your child’s weight and how they are eating, consult your GP. You can also seek help and advice from other agencies.
What effects can eating disorders have?
Person with this condition can have physical and emotional problems. Some of these include:
It’s important to remember that, if allowed to continue unchecked, both anorexia and bulimia can be life-threatening conditions. Over time, they are harder to treat, and the effects become more serious.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are caused by a number of different things:
Who can develop an eating disorder?
Some of the factors which increase the likelihood of having an eating disorder include:
Obsessional behaviour is often seen in young people with eating disorders.
Some people are more at risk than others. Sensitive or anxious individuals, who are having difficulty becoming independent from their families, are also more at risk. Eating disorders can also run in families. The families of young people with eating disorders often find change or conflict particularly difficult, and may be unusually close or over-protective.
Where can I get help?
If you think a young person may be developing an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to ask them if they are worried about themselves. Quite often young people with eating disorders are unable to acknowledge there may be a problem, and will not want you to interfere and may become angry or upset.
However, you may still be worried and you can seek advice from professionals in different agencies e.g. your GP or a paediatrician. It is important that you feel supported and not alone.
What can I do to help?
These simple suggestions are useful to help young people to maintain a healthy weight and avoid eating disorders.
When professional help is needed?
When eating problems make family meals stressful, it is important to seek professional advice. Your GP will be able to advise you about what specialist help is available locally and will be able to arrange a referral. Help may be available through the paediatrician, dietician or your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
If the eating disorder causes physical ill health, it is essential to get medical help quickly. If untreated, there is a risk of infertility, thin bones (osteoporosis), stunted growth and even death, but if treated, most young people get better.
The Eating Disorders Association has lots of online information and helpsheets
Helpline: 0845 634 7650 (Monday to Friday: 4.30pm to 8.30pm / Saturday: 1.00pm to 4.30pm)