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 function the 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;
  • You notice that your child's eating habits have changed and that they have lost weight or have rapidly gained weight.
  • Your child is constantly thinking or worrying about food, calories, weight gain or body shape. They find it hard to concentrate on other things such as conversations or school work.
  • They reducing food intake in order to lose weight. They set strict rules about what they can or cannot eat.
  • You notice they are doing lots of exercise, vomiting, taking laxatives (medication to help them go to the toilet) or slimming pills.
  • You notice that they are more tired and more emotional (tearful, irritable).
  • If your child is female, their periods might stop.
  • Other people might start noticing and commenting that they are worried about their weight loss

Top Tips

  • Tip 1

    It is common for people with eating difficulties to not see that there is a problem. They may not understand why others are concerned or they might disagree that there is a problem altogether.


    Calmly support them to open up about how they are feeling and what they are struggling with.  The quicker they can get help, 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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