Should I be worried about my child's eating habits?

It's not uncommon for children/young people to go through changes in eating habits. Not all of these will lead to an eating disorder. Your child may have a preference for certain foods, but it is important to remember that this is common for most people. Children/young people may ask for healthier food - there may be a reason i.e. healthy eating week at school. Whilst eating disorders are serious, potentially life threatening mental health conditions, it is important to remember that they are relatively rare.

EMERGENCY SYMPTOMS - seek immediate medical advice:

sudden or rapid weight loss

Fainting

Food or fluid refusal longer than 24 hours

Complaints of chest pains

Concerns, evidence or information about daily vomiting


Signs and symptoms
  • Sudden changes in eating habits with no obvious trigger
  • Frequently making excuses for why they are not eating i.e. denial of hunger/feeling sick/already eaten.
  • Being more active (increase in exercise) and being disciplined about this or becoming upset if prevented from doing exercise.
  • Weight loss (especially if sudden or rapid).
  • Complaints of feeling faint or dizzy.
  • Complaints of feeling the cold.
  • Periods stop (they may stop asking for feminine hygiene products (or become irregular or less regular).
  • Tiredness/more lethargic.
  • Symptoms of vomiting.
  • Dry cracked lips.
  • Having rituals around eating or preparing food.
  • Checking food labels or packaging obsessively.
  • Meticulous weighing of food or scrutiny of calories.
  • Becoming distressed if others prepare food.
  • Chewing gum and/or drinking lots of water
  • Finding hidden food around the house.
Links

Eating Disorders Information

ABC (Anorexia & Bullimia Care)

Resources

Books:

Eating Disorders: A Parent's Guide by Rachel Bryant-Waugh and Bryan Lask.

Skills-based learning for caring for a loved one with an eating disorder 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.


Top Tips
  • Stay calm.
  • Find time, don't rush the conversation.
  • Be prepared for a young person to deny or minimise a difficulty.
  • Be prepared to listen, acknowledge and validate a young person's emotions and thoughts.
  • Let the young person know you want to understand, help and support.


Further help
  • Speak to your child's/ young person's school.
  • Speak to your doctor.
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