Eating Difficulties

Anyone can have an eating disorder regardless of their age, sex, ethnicity, or background. 

Eating disorders are not all about the food itself. The way the person treats food may make them feel more able to cope, or feel more in control, but they might not be aware of the purpose this behaviour is serving.

There is no one cause of an eating disorder. Young people who develop eating difficulties and disorders often tell us that eating or not eating can be a way of coping with feelings of sadness, worry and stress. 

An eating disorder can quicky take over a person’s life and make them very unwell. Eating disorders can involve eating too much or far too little. 

There are many different types of eating disorders, with bulimia and anorexia nervosa being the most common, and all of them are serious. All eating disorders are treatable and a full recovery is possible. Getting help and advice as soon as possible improves the chances of a full recovery.

Here are some signs that there might be a problem and it’s time to get help;
  • Constantly thinking or worrying about food, calories, weight gain or your shape. You might notice that it is hard to concentrate on other things such as conversations or school work.
  • Reducing your food in order to lose weight and setting yourself strict rules about what you can or cannot eat.
  • Trying to do other things to lose weight, such as lots of exercise, vomiting, taking laxatives (medication to help you go to the toilet) or slimming pills.
  • You might become tired and more emotional (tearful, irritable).
  • If you are female, your periods might stop.
  • Other people might start noticing and commenting that they are worried about you

Top Tips

  • Tip 1

    It is common for people with eating difficulties to not see that there is a real problem. You may not understand why others are concerned or you might disagree that there is a problem altogether. This may make you feel angry and frustrated.


    Calmly support them to open up about how they are feeling and what they are struggling with.  The quicker they can get help for your difficulties, the better the outcome.

  • Tip 2

    Take things one day at a time, each meal at a time. If they have a difficult meal or snack, start the next one afresh.

  • Tip 3

    Find things that will motivate them to maintain healthy eating when things are hard; such as being able to go out with friends, do sports and activities and achieve goals that they have set.

  • Tip 4

    Have a look at these helpful, downloadable workbooks and self-help materials:

    • What’s eating you? A Workbook for Teens with Anorexia, Bulimia, and Other Eating Disorders by Tammy Nelson
    • Getting Over Overeating for Teens: A Workbook to Transform Your Relationship with Food Using CBT, Mindfulness, and Intuitive Eating by Andrea Watcher
    • Body Image Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help Girls Develop a Healthy Body Image in an Image-Obsessed World by Julia Taylor
    • Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Lisa Scab
    • Skills Based Learning for Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder; The New Maudsley Method by Janet Treasure, Grainne Smith and Anna Crane
    • Anorexia and other eating disorders; how to help your child eat well and be well by Eva Musby
    • Food Refusal and Avoidant Eating in Children (including those with Autism Spectrum Conditions); A practical guide for parents and professionals
    • Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools; A guide to whole school strategies and practical support by Pooky Knightsmit
  • Tip 5

    If you live in Hampshire and you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder and you’d like help or advice, please contact the Hampshire CAMHS Specialist Eating Disorder Team on 0300 304 0062 Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm or if you live in Dorset you can call Young People’s Eating Disorder Service (YPEDS) on 01202 492415.


    For those living on the Isle of Wight you can call IOW CAMHS on 01983 523602 between Monday-Friday 8:30am-5pm (answerphone out of hours).


CAMHS Eating Difficulties and Disorders Referral Guidance

 What we do, what we don’t do and what you can do if you are worried about your child

Many young people go through phases of dieting and not eating enough. Sometimes this can tip into developing an eating disorder. Here’s a guide to help you know how best to support your young person if they are experiencing eating difficulties. This is not an exhaustive list; young people may experience symptoms which may not be included on this guide:

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