EATING disorders come in many different forms and it's thought that around 1.25 million Brits suffer with one.
During the pandemic there was a spike in kids suffering with eating disorders – with an 85 per cent surge in cases.
While more people are opening up about their eating disorders, it can be hard to talk about and hard to treat.
On April 9 this year former Big Brother star Nikki Graham sadly passed away following a 30-year battle with anorexia.
In his new book, Olympic diving star Tom Daley also revealed that he battled with his food after coaches told him he needed to lose weight before the London Olympics.
In an extract from the book, 'Coming Up For Air' Daley recalls having negative thoughts about eating and said he would 'constantly feel hungry' from not fuelling his body.
Model Tess Holiday also previously opened up about her battle with anorexia.
It was also reported earlier this year that people with eating disorders were not getting the help they need due to their BMI 'being too high'.
But what can you do if you think your child is suffering from an eating disorder?
Tanith Carey, author of 'What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents' said one way to help your child is to eat with them.
She explained: "Research has found that kids are more likely to have a healthy attitude to eating if they have family mealtimes together at least three times a week.
"Encourage them to cook with you too. This gives kids a chance to see food as a pleasure to be shared."
BE A ROLE MODEL
Many of us growing up may have been around parents who were often on diets or criticised their bodies, Tanith says that being a role model and being aware of how you talk about your own body can also help your kids.
"Avoid judging yourself and others on their looks. Instead openly value other qualities, like strength of character and kindness. Your child will be listening", she said.
While you shouldn't criticise your body, Tanith said you should also try and avoid demonising food.
This means not giving food labels like 'good' or 'bad', as this can make kids and adults alike feel ashamed of what they are eating.
Instead, Tanith says you should call foods 'anytime' and 'sometimes' foods, with 'anytime' foods being things you would eat on a daily basis such as fruit and vegetables, and 'sometimes' foods being things such as cake.
One of the best things to do, is to talk to your kids, Kerrie Jones, CEO and founder of Orri, a specialist day treatment service for eating disorders says.
Kerri explained that eating disorders thrive in isolation and secrecy, so as much as possible it’s about keeping lines of communication as open as you can.
Talking, Kerrie says, is something that you should try and keep up throughout their chilhood – this will help your kids be honest about their feelings.
"Have regular catch ups, ask questions when you’re driving somewhere, and have lots of smaller ‘chats’ to help to create an environment where kids feel able to open up", she said.
How to talk to your kids about eating disorders
If you think your child might be suffering it can be hard to know what to say.
Kerrie explained that being direct is a great way to address the issues and said more than anything you should try and 'say what you see'.
She explained: "If you're worried your child is developing an eating disorder stick to the facts about what you have noticed.
"For example: You might say: "You seem to disappear into the bathroom a lot after meals" or ‘The toilet smells of sick after you've been in there’.
"Be prepared for denial and anger because eating disorders are often a way for a young person to deal with stress and feel back in control.
"Even if they deny it, keep the lines of communication open, don't criticise and let your child know you're there for them as soon as they are ready."
Many social media users apply filters and Photoshop their image – giving an unrealistic standard of beauty to many kids who are trying to navigate growing up.
Kerrie said: "Kids often compare themselves to the influencers who rise to the top of the feeds on TikTok, now the most popular open social platform for young people – and often feel they fall short.
"Ask them to talk you through what they are seeing and encourage them to ask questions like ‘Has this video been filtered through an app that makes this person look skinnier?’
"Suggest they recognise when some appearance-based accounts make them feel bad and remind them they always have the choice to un-follow."
KNOW THE SIGNS
Eating disorders are a secretive illness and can be difficult to spot. If you think your child is suffering there are some things you can look out for.
While eating disorders are more common in young women and girls, in recent years eating disorders among boys have soared to 25 percent of cases.
Symptoms of an eating disorder can vary from person to person, but there are some telltale signs.
MORE OR EXCESSIVE EXERCISE
If someone you know has started to exercise obsessively then this could be a sign that they have an eating disorder.
It your child is running from room to room without stopping or is wanting to dance or be outside more often than before then it might be because they think they have to burn calories.
This is important to monitor this as if they are also having issues with food then this could lead to excessive weight loss.
Kerrie said an obsession with exercise could be more prominent in boys who feel the need to 'bulk up'.
She explained: "If you feel your son's strict eating and gym regime is interfering with his normal life, talk about his goals, and if necessary, point him to services for men so he knows body image issues aren’t just for girls."
Food gives you energy and if your child or your loved one isn't eating enough then it's likely they won't have much motivation to do anything.
This coupled with over exercise can lead to extreme fatigue. People with eating disorders are also often tired as they struggle to sleep.
It could also be that they are finding it hard to concentrate on normal every day tasks.
CHANGE IN BEHAVIOUR
A change in behaviour can mean a number of things, it could be that you've noticed your child or loved one has more mood swings than usual.
It could also mean that they are distant or spending more time in their room than usual. Kids may also withdraw from having conversations.
For some people their behaviour could change in other ways, this could be anything from hastily going to the toilet after a meal, cancelling plans or being less enthused about things they would usually enjoy.
ISSUES WITH FOOD
Charity Beat says that people who have an eating disorder use food to control difficult feelings and emotions they might be experiencing.
Issues with food might not always mean under-eating and people with eating disorders can sometimes eat large quantities of food.
Beat states: "This behaviour can include limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means (e.g. making themselves sick, misusing laxatives, fasting, or excessive exercise), or a combination of these behaviours."
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