Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
North Wales Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
Weight and Eating Problems
Most of us, at some time in our lives, feel unhappy about the way we look and try to change it. Being smaller, shorter, or less well-developed than friends or brothers and sisters can make us feel anxious and lacking in confidence. So can being teased about size and weight. Many of us have an idea of the size and shape we would like to be.
Our ideas about what looks good are strongly influenced by fashion and friends. You might compare yourself with the pictures in magazines. The models in these magazines are often unhealthily thin. You may then worry that you are fat, even if your weight is normal for your age and height.
There are a variety of sizes and shapes that are within the normal, healthy range. If you’re interested, there are tables showing normal height and weight. Ask your school nurse, GP or library. Your weight, like your height and looks, depends a lot on your build, your genes and your diet.
How do I stay a healthy and have normal weight?
Our bodies need a healthy diet which should include all the things you need to develop normally – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. Cutting out things you might see as fattening, such as carbohydrates or fats, can stop your body from developing normally.
There are some simple rules that can help you to stay a healthy weight. They sound quite easy, but might be more difficult to put into practice. You can ask your family and friends to help you to stick to these rules – and it might even help them to be a bit healthier!
If you follow these suggestions, you will find it easier to control your weight, and you won’t find yourself wanting sweet foods all the time.
What about Miracle cures for losing weight – do they work?
There seems to be a new one of these almost every week. Sadly, they often do more harm than good.
What causes problems with eating?
Problems or pressures at school, with friends, or at home, are common. Your appetite can be affected by stress, pressure, worry or tiredness.
Some people turn to food for comfort. This can lead to eating more than we need, and can make us put on weight.
It’s easy to start worrying about getting fat and we find ourselves eating even more to comfort ourselves. It becomes a vicious circle. ‘Comfort foods’ often contain a lot of fat or sugar – sweets, biscuits, chocolate, cakes and pastries. It can be helpful to keep a diary of what you eat to make sure that you don’t slip into this.
If you are unhappy or stressed, it can be easy to focus on your weight and eating habits instead of the things that are bothering you. If this goes on for long enough, you might develop an eating disorder.
What are the different types of eating disorder?
The most common eating disorder is becoming overweight (obesity). Other eating disorders are less common. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia occur most often among girls but can occur in boys.
If worries have altered your appetite or weight, it will help to talk to someone.
How do I know if I have an eating disorder?
When you have an eating disorder you may notice some signs.
If you suffer from anorexia:
Strangely, the thinner you get, the fatter you feel! We don’t fully understand why this happens, but it makes the eating disorder harder to overcome.
People with anorexia usually remain very active - and say they are well - even though they become so thin that they avoid undressing in front of others or wear loose clothes to hide their size.
Anorexia nervosa can be dangerous if it gets out of control. If you are a girl, and your periods have stopped, this is a danger sign that means you need help right away (this won’t happen if you are on the pill – so if you are, don’t wait for this).
If you don’t eat much, you can feel like you are starving! You may then find yourself bingeing – eating lots of food very quickly. Bingeing also happens in an eating disorder known as bulimia.
If you have bulimia:
Some people have both anorexic and bulimic symptoms.
What are consequences of having an eating disorder?
Having an eating disorder can be crippling affecting your concentration, education or work, social life like going out with friends along with its impact on your emotional and mental health. It can also cause significant and serious physical health problems both in the short and long term.
How do I get help?
If you are worried about your weight or feel you might have an eating disorder, you should get some help. Talk to:
Your GP or practice nurse is the best person for basic information and advice on diet and weight. If you need more specialist help, they can refer you to a specialist or suggest that you see a professional at your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). This is a team of specialists including child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists and specialist nurses. They can help you to regain control of your eating and your weight. Most young people do get better with help.