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Does my child have an eating disorder?

Updated: Apr 19

mother and daughter cooking in the kitchen, with blue cupboards and a chopping board with vegetables on it

Eating disorders commonly develop from the age of 14. This is a time when young people are becoming more independent and parents often have less control over the food they eat.

It can also be a time when your relationship with your child goes through many changes, often resulting in difficult conflicts. Equally, your child may become more distant from you. If you need support please don't hesitate to reach out to our caring team today.

It can be difficult to know whether changes in your child’s behaviour are the result of normal teenage development, or whether they are signs of an eating disorder.

“My son has lost over a stone and become very distant and moody. But my friend says he is just a normal teenage boy.”

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is not primarily about food and weight. Eating disorders develop when a person becomes dependent upon food to cope with difficult feelings and emotions.

“I felt I had lost all control in my life. My friends had moved on and I wasn’t doing well at school. Losing weight was the one thing I could do – food became the one thing I could control.”

There are a number of recognised eating disorders, but two of the most well-known are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa:

Anorexia involves severely restricting what you eat in order to lose weight. Sufferers lose a large amount of weight but believe themselves to be fat and have a great fear of putting on weight. The intensity of this fear is profound and usually described as a phobia of normal body weight ie an irrational fear, not of being fat, but of being a normal weight.

People with anorexia can either be restrictive – they restrict their calorie intake and engage in excessive exercise or bulimic, eating a large amount of food at once then inducing vomiting.

Bulimia involves eating large amounts of food, then making yourself sick so your body does not absorb the food. Bulimia involves binge eating but at normal body weight. It occurs at an average age of 18.

All eating disorders are likely to change the way you live your life. Your child is likely to become more withdrawn, secretive and have sudden mood swings.

What are the signs that my child has an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex problems which are expressed in behaviour, emotions and have a physical impact upon the sufferer’s body. Signs will vary for each type of disorder and every individual is different. However, if your child displays a large proportion of the physical, behavioural and psychological signs, he or she may have an eating disorder.


Physical signs

Behavioural signs

Psychological sign

Sudden/severe weight loss

Secretive and distant

Intense fear of gaining weight ie a phobia of being a normal weight

Periods stop

Wearing baggy clothes

Frequent references to “being fat”

Difficulty sleeping




Lying about eating meals

Mood swings and emotional

Stomach pain

Difficulty concentrating

Diet obsession

Feeling cold



Physical signs

Behavioural signs

Psychological signs

Sore throat

Eating large quantities without gaining weight

Depression, anxiety and anger

Stomach pain

Vomiting after eating/going to the toilet immediately after eating


Irregular periods

Being secretive

Mood swings

Difficulty sleeping

Feelings of loss of control which extend to other parts of life

Mouth infections

Sensitive or damaged teeth

What should I do if I think my child has an eating disorder?

It's important to open an honest and judgment-free conversation. Be aware that your child may deny having a problem if you're concerned that they have an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food. People with eating disorders typically try to hide it and find it hard to admit they need help.

Speak with your GP and write down your main worries before the visit. The GP will conduct an evaluation, and if they determine that your child requires specialised care, they'll be able to give you a referral to a specialist, like those at Schoen Clinic. Depending on the type of eating disorder and the symptoms, there are numerous treatment options. Treatment options may involve family and individual counselling as well as food modification to address underlying emotional issues.

The young person may need to spend some time in a hospital or a special facility where therapy may be more carefully monitored if they have lost a significant amount of weight or if other help seems to be failing them.

Please reach out to our caring team at Schoen Clinic if you need support for yourself or a loved one. Our specialists in London, Birmingham and York offer highly specialised treatments for children, teens and adults.

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