Eating Disorders

Understanding Disordered Eating

Eating disorders can occur in any family and may be triggered for many different reasons. Some common triggers are excessive stress, anxiety, dieting, athletics, depression or a traumatic event. There is good evidence that genetics may contribute as well as multiple other societal factors and personality factors (such as perfectionism). For many people, it develops as a coping strategy when life feels out of control or overwhelming. It can be easy to convince yourself that what you are doing is normal or even healthy.  
Social media can be a negative influence by portraying highly manipulated images and promoting toxic messages about body image and weight. The video below is from the Dove self-esteem campaign- warning; it contains real stories about body image that may be upsetting.

For more resources and videos see the pages on body image and on self-esteem 

For Parents

Worrying whether your child has developed an eating disorder is incredibly upsetting and parents nearly always blame themselves in some way, but the causes of eating disorders are complicated and different in every case. Understanding the emotions and drivers for disordered eating can help you help your child into recovery. 

When to see your GP

See your GP as soon as possible to discuss whether a referral to specialist services is needed. Sometimes teenagers and young adults may not want to see a doctor or may not feel there is much of a problem. This denial and rationalisation are what allow someone to continue in what are often very extreme behaviours.

Letting go of an eating disorder and ‘getting better’ can be very frightening even when someone realises they are harming themselves. Understanding this ambivalence can be hard for parents, but is important to help you support them.

Resources for Parents and Caregivers

If your child agrees to see their GP, they may wish to go alone. While a GP cannot share information that someone over 16 has told them without that person’s consent, a parent can share their own worries with the GP. There is a lot of help and information available for young people and their families which we’ve pulled together for you here. Parents often find real-life stories helpful and there are several charities with helplines or e-mail support.


Eating Disorder Helplines

  • Talk-ED has online community support for parents and carers and also a help directory where you can put in your postcode and find counsellors in your area. Helpline 03000 111213. Option1 (support) Option 2 (family and friends)
  • Beat eating disordersHelpline, directory of services, stories, blogs and the possibility to chat online. There is also a separate helpline for young people under 18. Helpline 0808 8010677
  • YoungMinds Parent Helpline and other support
  • The Mix (for under 25’s) Helpline for support on any topic. They also offer e-mail support, message boards and text support.          

Eating Disorders Information and Charities

Professional Advice and Information Books for Parents

Parents on Eating Disorders

  • Hope with Eating Disorders by Lynn Crilly, written from a parent’s first-hand experience, advice on how to identify and cope with different eating disorders and case studies.
  • Bite-sized A Mother’s Journey alongside Anorexia in poetry form by Fiona Hamilton 
  • The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse. A novel about a mother discovering her daughter has an eating disorder. It starts with a light touch but doesn’t shy away from the realities, including looking at what behaviours from parents and others are helpful and not so helpful. Tough but ultimately hopeful.

For Young People: I think I have an Eating Disorder but I’m scared to make any changes

Are you wondering whether you might have an eating disorder or have finally realised you do? It can be really hard to be ready to admit there is a problem and even harder to have the courage to do something about it. 

Even if you are not ready to make a change, it can be helpful to have someone to talk things over with so remember you are not alone and there is a lot of support out there for you. Many people with eating disorders are slow to realise they really have a problem. They often feel they are ‘not that bad’ even when others around them are worried.

Warning signs might be that you find that your eating is taking up all your thoughts, affecting your mood, your memory, your friendships or your ability to get better from injuries or illness. Scroll down to look through some links that might help including Books and Apps at the bottom of the page.

Help and Information for Young People

Books for Young People

Self-help Books for Young Adults 17+ 

Personal Stories

Apps : Get Back in Control of your Eating Disorder

  • Mindshift CBT Uses relaxation techniques like “mindful breathing” and positive visualisation to help with anxiety. There is also a section on “Thinking Right” with helpful thoughts which you can select to use instead of your usual negative circular thoughts.
  • Eating Disorder Support App This new App has a huge amount of information, self-help, advice on supporting others, useful links, and even a calm zone
  • RR (Recovery Record)  App with a log for how you feel, but also ideas and suggestions for positive thoughts and coping strategies. Set yourself goals and choose coping skills that you think might work for you (click on coping skills, then add to see a selection but you can also add your own). There are guided meditations that you can pair with images of your choice. Based on CBT techniques, you can also share logs with others such as a counsellor. 
  • Eating Disorders Support App This App is packed with resources such as helplines and charities as well as self-care advice and is bang up-to-date.