Supporting young people with eating disorders

The prevalence of eating disorders among children and adolescents is on the rise, posing a significant challenge for parents and caregivers. As a dedicated child and adolescent specialist practising cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it is crucial to address the multifaceted nature of eating disorders. This comprehensive guide aims to equip parents and caregivers with an in-depth understanding of the prevalence, signs, and effective strategies for supporting those struggling with eating disorders.


Understanding the prevalence

Eating disorders encompass a range of complex conditions, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Recent studies reveal that approximately 2.7% of adolescents aged 13 to 18 will experience an eating disorder. There's an observed increase in the prevalence of these disorders in younger children, emphasising the need for early intervention.

Recognising the signs

Parents and caregivers serve as the first line of defence in recognising the early signs of an eating disorder. Beyond the physical manifestations, it's crucial to be attuned to behavioural, emotional, and psychological indicators.

Changes in eating habits

  • Monitor significant weight fluctuations and variations in eating patterns.
  • Be vigilant about persistent dieting, excessive exercise, or avoidance of specific food groups.

Behavioural changes

  • Pay attention to increased secrecy or rituals around food consumption.
  • Notice social withdrawal or avoidance of previously enjoyed activities.

Physical symptoms

  • Look for signs such as fatigue, weakness, and complaints about digestive issues.
  • Be aware of the development of fine body hair as a response to malnutrition.

Emotional and psychological signs

  • Recognise signs of low self-esteem linked to distorted body image.
  • Be mindful of obsessive thoughts about food, weight, or appearance, as well as mood swings and anxiety related to mealtime.

Open Communication

  • Establish a safe and non-judgmental environment for your child to express their feelings.
  • Encourage open conversations about body image, self-esteem, and overall well-being.


  • Immerse yourself in learning about eating disorders to gain a deeper understanding.
  • Familiarise yourself with potential triggers, risk factors, and the impact of societal pressures.

Healthy role modeling

  • Promote positive attitudes toward food and body image within the family.
  • Emphasise the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet through family meals and discussions.

Early intervention

  • Recognise the critical role of early intervention in the treatment of eating disorders.
  • Consult with healthcare professionals such as pediatricians, therapists, or psychiatrists for a comprehensive assessment.

CBT as an effective treatment

  • Consider cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a well-established and effective treatment for eating disorders in children and adolescents.
  • Collaborate with a qualified therapist experienced in CBT to address underlying thoughts and behaviours contributing to the disorder.

Support groups

  • Seek out support groups for parents and caregivers to connect with others facing similar challenges.
  • Utilise online resources and networks to access up-to-date information and share experiences.

Eating disorders pose significant challenges, but a comprehensive and informed approach can make a substantial difference. By staying well-informed, fostering open communication, and seeking professional help early on, parents and caregivers can play a pivotal role in helping their child on the journey to recovery. Each young person is unique, and a personalised approach, coupled with professional guidance, can significantly impact the process of overcoming eating disorders and cultivating a healthy relationship with food and body image.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Birmingham, West Midlands, B18
Written by Laura Gwilt, BSc(Hons), PGDip, Accredited
Birmingham, West Midlands, B18

Laura is an experienced CBT psychotherapist and child & adolescent specialist, specialising in anxiety disorders, trauma, and eating disorders. With a background in providing support within inpatient hospitals, Laura's commitment to early intervention is fueled by a passion for promoting well-being and resilience to young people and their families.

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