Young people need a substantial amount of food in order to support their growth and development. Children and adolescents need to be gaining weight during this time as they grow.
Eating well includes aspects like knowing how to obtain food, prepare food and the ability to recognise the balance of food groups required to achieve and/or sustain optimal health and wellbeing.
Being able to enjoy food in the company of other people is a significant part of eating well.
Disordered eating is when a young person changes their pattern of eating, usually because they feel unhappy with some aspect of their body weight/ shape/ appearance. It may include:
It is very concerning if these behaviours persist for any longer than a few weeks. If young people are also avoiding social or family situations that involve food, parents have good reason to become more worried and suspect something is wrong. In this situation, parents need to respond quickly to intervene, providing guidance and coaching the young person to re-establish a regular eating pattern and to stop any extreme weight control behaviours. RAVES may be a useful tool to assist in this process. RAVES can be located in the FYI Toolkit.
"Feed your child, no matter how much your child wants to resist. Resistance is to be expected, as well as a constant denial that anything is wrong"
-Parent of a young person with an eating disorder.
If a young person experiences teasing about their shape and size, it is important to be clear that this is a bullying problem (not a problem of the young person's size or shape) and respond accordingly. It can be helpful to encourage young people to recognise and challenge bullying about shape or size.
In addition, schools, sporting groups and the wider community may encourage or provide messaging around the percieved 'ideal' body shape and size.
Some young people are more sensitive to negative comments and social messages than others. Young people who tend to feel anxious or strive to be 'perfect' may be especially affected by comments about their shape and size. This in turn, affects their thinking and attitudes about eating, health, shape or size.
If eating patterns have been disturbed over a number of weeks, parents need to take a firm stance, increase their vigilance and closely monitor their child's meals and snacks. Parents may find it helpful to keep a log of what and how much food their child is eating. The FYI Food and Behaviour Log can be located in the FYI Toolkit.
If you have noticed your child displaying some warning signs of disordered eating:
Support your child to identify and challenge any weight related comments from others (regardless of your child's shape and size).