23 Nov 2018

How can I tell if my child has an eating disorder?


You have noticed some changes in your child around food and how they are talking about their body or appearance. You are concerned but have no idea what you should do. Where do you start? Do you say something? Should you seek professional advice?

If you’re concerned your child has an eating disorder, by reading this article, you’re making the most important step in seeking information and ultimately help for your child. Firstly, know that you are not alone – we have more than 4,000 parents or carers contact our National Helpline each year, and your role as a parent is vital.

As a parent, our main focus is the wellbeing of our children, and it’s common to feel confused or concerned from time to time about what may be going on in their minds. You may have noticed some behavioural changes around food, and are worried they could be experiencing body image concerns or an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are complex. There isn’t a strict list of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ boxes to tick, and a GP is the best person to give a diagnosis. However, you can start by listening to language and observing behaviours to get a better understanding of what your child may be experiencing and whether you need to get professional help for what’s going on.

What are some signs of a potential eating disorder?

  • Has the way they talk about food changed?
  • Is there a sudden interest in exercising, perhaps quite frequently?
  • Are they talking negatively about their shape or size?
  • Have you noticed a rapid fluctuation in weight?
  • Are they having trouble focusing?
  • Maybe they don’t feel like socialising?
  • Are they constantly fatigued or experiencing dizzy spells often?

You may not be sure what an eating disorder is. Taking the time to learn about the different types of eating disorders, will not only help you recognise associated behaviours, but it will also give you a better understanding of what your child may be going through.

Is this a phase?

Sometimes different life experiences can bring upon changes in our relationship with food, especially in adolescent and teenage years, and you may be wondering if this is a phase your child is going through.

Your child could be in denial that there is a problem, or maybe they are feeling ashamed, or even out of control around food. They may try to hide their feelings, or avoid talking about them all together.

TIP: Whether their behaviour changes are small, or all-encompassing it’s best to seek help as soon as possible to receive the appropriate support that they need.

What can you do now?

First and foremost, don’t blame yourself. Eating disorders are psychological illnesses without a primary cause. But, as the carer or parent, there are a lot of different ways you can go about getting help for your child.

Having an open and positive conversation with your child about how they are feeling is a good place to start. When doing so, it is important to remember the child behind the behaviour, to separate them from their disordered eating. They themselves are not the illness.  Try not to be discouraged if they don’t want to open up. They may be feeling scared or ashamed. Talking about how they are feeling will more than likely need be an ongoing conversation, or a conversation that may need to be had a few times. Remind your child that you love and support them. If you want to start a conversation, we have some helpful tips for you.

The first step could be talking to someone about your concerns or taking your child to a GP to receive a proper diagnosis. If you are unsure of where to go for a GP or would like to chat to someone, you can contact our National Helpline to receive advice and a referral for specific GPs that specialise in eating disorders.

How to get help to give the best support?

It is hard to see somebody that we love struggling. The more you know about eating disorders, the better you can help somebody who is experiencing one.

Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to others who have been in similar situations, as it can sometimes feel lonely. Attending support groups with other carer, who understand what’s going on for you, can be helpful.

If you are unsure of how to approach someone that you think may have an eating disorder, reach out to our National Helpline for guidance on the best ways you can offer your support, and receive support for yourself.

How to look after yourself?

This is the most common thing that parents and carers forget about, themselves. If your child is experiencing body image concerns or an eating disorder this can be a very confusing, scary and difficult time for you. As well as seeking support for your child, you also need to take care of yourself.

TIP: If after reading this you feel overwhelmed or confused the best thing to do is go with your gut! You do not need to tackle this alone, call our National Helpline and start a conversation today.

Other helpful resources:

Reach Out And Recover is helpful to learn more about the different types of eating disorders.
Feed Your Instinct has great guidance for parents on signs and symptoms of body image and eating concerns.
Tips on how to approach someone you care about.
Call the Butterfly National Helpline.
Join a carers’ support group.

You can talk to us 

Contact the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on – 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE) email support@butterfly.org.au webchat https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/our-services/helpline/chat-online/

Related tags: Advice Body Image Carer Eating Disorder