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Eating problems

Eating problems can lead to eating disorders. These are illnesses (disorders) that make somebody eat too much or too little or exercise too much every day, for a long period of time. Lots of us might eat a little more one day and a little less the next. That’s perfectly normal. People with eating disorders do this day after day, and they can’t stop even though it’s making them sick. No one knows for sure what causes them but what is known is that people don’t choose to have eating disorders. Eating problems can start because of different reasons, like going through a stressful or traumatic event. They can be serious but most people with eating disorders can get better.

It’s usually very difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own, so it’s important that you find professional help and support as soon as possible. The sooner someone is treated for an eating disorder, the better their chance of making a full recovery. Eating disorders can be very dangerous – but remember that Childline will provide the support you need to get better.

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge eating. Some people may suffer from both Anorexia and Bulimia together.  It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. Complete recovery is possible. Treatment is available at both in and out-patient facilities.

Treatment plans for eating disorders include

  • pharmacological therapy (medications like SSRI’s and antipsychotics)
  • psychotherapy
  • dialectical behaviour therapy
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • family therapy

A combination of these approaches is sometimes better. Typical treatment goals include restoring adequate nutrition, bringing weight to a healthy level, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping binge-purge and binge-eating behaviours. It is very important for the person receiving treatment to have family support during and after treatment.

People with Anorexia (an illness which makes people stop eating food) have a fear of weight gain and they see their body as very much bigger than it really is. As a result, they eat very little and can become very thin. Many teens with anorexia limit their food by dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise. Sometimes they hardly eat at all and worry all the time that what they do eat is going to make them fat. Other people with anorexia eat food and then try to get rid of it by making themselves vomit, take laxatives to make their stomachs run, take diet pills, or else they exercise over the limit of what is healthy.

Anorexia could help you feel in control of things, especially if other parts of your life are getting stressful. Like if you’re experiencing bullying or having a bad time at home or in relationships. Anorexia can also get out of control and start to feel like it’s taking over your life.

Anorexia can be very dangerous. Eventually people can die if they don’t eat. It’s very important for you to get help if you’re eating less and losing a lot of weight. Proper nutrition is important for growth, having strong bones and general health. It also gives you energy to think, study, work and do physical things.

Things to remember:

  • Anorexia affects both boys and girls
  • you can recover from Anorexia
  • talking to someone you trust can really help
  • a health care professional can support you
  • Childline will help you find ways to cope

Signs of anorexia

  • refusal to eat
  • saying you are not hungry even when you are starving
  • difficulty concentrating
  • obsession with body size and shape
  • skipping meals
  • making excuses for not eating
  • eating only a few foods, usually those low in fat and calories
  • cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • weighing food
  • cooking big meals for others but refusing to eat
  • excessive exercise
  • bad mood, or lack of emotion
  • weighing yourself very often
  • checking in the mirror for things that don’t look nice
  • wearing clothes that are too big

Harmful effects of Anorexia

  • hair dryness and hair loss
  • dry skin and wrinkles
  • headaches
  • bad breath
  • heart problems
  • constipation or vomiting
  • teeth rot and fall out
  • puberty can be delayed
  • growth can be slowed
  • periods can stop (girls)
  • concentration problems
  • excess hair growth on face, arms and other parts of the body
  • weak bones (osteoporosis)
  • weakened immune system (getting sick often)
  • blue skin from too little oxygen
  • dizziness, fainting, fatigue, low blood pressure, low body temperature
  • too little vitamins, minerals and iron in the blood
  • anxiety and nervousness
  • brittle nails
  • bruising easily
  • depression
  • eventual death

Bulimia is an eating disorder that makes people want to eat a lot of food at once and then try to get rid of the food from their body, by vomiting, using laxatives, enemas or doing lots of exercise.  Over time this can be dangerous for their health and can lead to behaviours that are hard to stop

Bulimia is a mental health disorder which often makes people feel like they don’t have control over eating. The disorder is characterized by binging and purging. And often the more people with bulimia binge eat, the more they want to purge. It can be a cycle. Many people who have bulimia have low self-esteem or don’t think they’re good enough. Some people think they need to be thinner to fit in. If life is full of pressure and stress, bulimia can feel like a way of coping.

Bulimia could start because of a mixture of different problems, for example:

  • pressure to be thin
  • worrying about how you look
  • a sudden change to your surroundings, for example if you change school
  • a difficult time at school or at home
  • bullying about your weight
  • bodily changes, such as puberty
  • abuse
  • stress at school
  • someone close to you dying
  • feeling alone

Bulimia can feel like too much to deal with. But you can get better. And we can help you, call Childline for support.

Signs of Bulimia:

  • a cycle of bingeing and purging (eating a lot then making yourself sick)
  • leave the room to go to the bathroom straight after eating
  • want to be thinner
  • are self-harming
  • are obsessed with exercise
  • feel the need to eat a lot, even if you’re not hungry
  • have a list of foods you try and avoid
  • buying lots of food and hiding it
  • feel depressed or anxious (especially at meal times)
  • feel guilty or ashamed
  • have put on a lot of weight or have lost a lot of weight quickly

Harmful effects of Bulimia:

  • dehydration – your body loses water in the cells
  • tired all the time
  • anxiety
  • feelings of guilt
  • mood swings
  • constipation (not going to the toilet)
  • painful, raw and inflamed throat
  • develop bad breath and rotten teeth
  • girls may stop having periods
  • depression
  • poor self-esteem
  • heart and kidney failure which can lead to death

It is important to talk to someone if you have Bulimia. Trying to cover up what’s going on could make you feel alone. Talking can make recovering from bulimia feel a little easier.

Binge eating also known as compulsive overeating is an eating disorder which makes people feel that they must eat a LOT of food in one go. Binge eating can start to happen because of feelings that are difficult to cope with, but you can get better and Childline can help you.

Signs of Binge Eating:

  • eat huge amounts of food in a short period of time (say one or two hours)
  • thinking your eating is out of control
  • buy large amounts of food
  • hoard food
  • avoid eating around other people
  • stay away from people (social withdrawal)
  • feel self-hatred about the way you eat
  • eat even when you are not hungry
  • eat very quickly during your binge periods
  • have mood swings

Binge eating can cause:

  • weight gain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • stomach ache and other stomach problems
  • tiredness and difficulty in sleeping
  • skin problems
  • feelings of shame
  • anxiety
  • feelings of being out of control
  • depression
  • guilt
  • mood swings
  • obesity (being dangerously fat)
  • high blood pressure
  • fat in the blood (high cholesterol)
  • type 2 diabetes (sugar)
  • heart disease
  • problems with falling pregnant
  • Back pain and joint pain
  • remember that you’re stronger than the eating disorder, you can beat it
  • write down your feelings- especially your feelings about food, this can help you make sense of what’s going on and help you start to recover
  • it’s much harder to recover on your own, tell someone about what’s going on and let someone know if you relapse or are finding it hard to recover
  • find distractions- think of activities to do to help you avoid negative eating behaviours
  • plan ahead- think about what you want to say to yourself when you have eating challenges. you could write it down and carry it with you
  • be positive- write down a list of things you like about yourself
  • stay away from blogs and websites that promote eating problems instead, try reading things that make you feel good about yourself
  • set yourself small goals and celebrate your achievements.
  • try something new it doesn’t matter if it’s small – doing something new can help you believe in yourself
  • it can help to ask yourself what made the eating problem start if there’s something stressful or upsetting in your life (like family relationships or pressure at school) then it might be a good idea to get some support. you could do this by asking an adult you trust for help or talking to a childline counsellor.
  • each situation is different, but if you visit a doctor, they could help you make a food plan or talk about you possibly going to a therapy group
  • keep a food diary every time you eat, this can help you see if there are certain times when you struggle with eating
  • plan the meals and snacks you should have during the day to help you adopt regular eating habits

Helping someone with an Eating Disorder

It can feel challenging to help someone with an Eating Problem as they sometimes get secretive they might shut you out but you can still help them.

  • be supportive and don’t judge your child, knowing you’re there to help could mean a lot
  • help them take their mind off things by doing something together that you enjoy
  • think of activities you can do together after meal times this can distract them to avoid purging
  • try to be complimentary on their personality rather than their appearance
  • compliment them on their personality rather than their physical appearance or weight
  • try not to make comments about other people’s weight when he or she is around
  • ask how they feel and let them know you’re there if they want to talk
  • meal times can be really difficult, try not to pressurize your child to eat a lot of food they wouldn’t normally eat
  • get help from a professional
  • act immediately- the quicker you act, the better your child’s chance of recovery
  • your unconditional support and love is very important, and can help your child to recover
  • use the right approach “I” statements and specifics, such as, “I found a lot of sweet papers in your room today and I’m worried.”
  • set a good example – eat healthy too
  • educate yourself – if you understand that problem eating often represents a loss of control over emotions you will be able to help your child find out what the triggers are that set the child off on a eating episode


  • blame your child
  • avoid the issue
  • pretend that the family culture doesn’t encourage eating problems if it does
  • think the problem will resolve quickly- recovery is a slow process
  • think you can do it on your own- people with eating problems often have other emotional or psychological disorders and different qualified people are needed to work on the medical, nutritional, psychological and behavioural needs
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