An eating disorder is an abnormal attitude towards food. It may involve insufficient or excessive food intake and may take over all aspects of a person’s life. Eating disorders often become established during adolescence and can negatively affect a child physically, psychologically and socially.
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and compulsive overeating are the most common eating disorders in the UK. Although they primarily affect girls and women, an estimated 10 to 15% of people with eating disorders are male.
Children’s appetites and tastes can change at different ages, which is perfectly normal. Some children may be fussy when it comes to food, whilst others will happily eat anything. Many young people may try to diet in order to slim down or put on weight and although this should be monitored, again, it is not usually a cause for concern.
However, children’s attitude to food is directly related to their emotions and the way they’re brought up. Some children who go through worry, stress or trauma, who feel under pressure, or are criticised for their eating habits or physical appearance may start to lose control over the way they view food. They might lose their appetite or comfort eat. They may focus excessively on their body and start making unhealthy decisions about food to the detriment of their health.
If not treated, an eating disorder can seriously impact a child’s education, relationships with family, friends and peers, as well as their emotional development and self-esteem. Physically, the effects of an eating disorder can be fatal.
Eating disorder – Case study
Names have been changed to protect identities.
Tanisha is 13 years old and has anorexia. She lives in a residential home for girls where she receives specialist support.
Her diet and behaviour is kept an eye on and staff work closely with a number of external agencies to ensure that she gets the care she requires.
In the calm and relaxed environment of the home, Tanisha is provided with a bespoke education programme which has helped to raise her self esteem.
Tanisha has built up positive relationships with staff at the home and is beginning to participate in activities that most other teenagers enjoy.