Parents have been warned to look out for signs of eating disorders in children and teenagers, after instances in the UK increased four-fold compared to last year.
NHS England has said more people will need support, despite record numbers getting care for eating disorders.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is urging parents to look out for signs in young people. They heard from around 40 specialists working in Scotland, England and Wales who said they had all seen a rise in referrals on eating disorders.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a form of mental illness, which can happen when somebody has an unhealthy relationship with their food. The person will adopt extreme behaviours as a result of this, which can make them very unwell.
Eating disorders aren’t just limited to someone not eating enough food and losing weight, they can also include someone putting on an unhealthy amount of weight after eating too much.
Not all symptoms of eating disorders are physical, so you may not be able to easily tell when someone is suffering from one.
Types of eating disorders
Generally speaking, common signs of eating disorders will be behavioural and attitude changes with weight loss, dieting and control of food.
There are three main conditions which cover a lot of eating disorder cases that people can spot. These are:
Often shortened to anorexia, this is when someone will avoid eating and lose a lot of weight very quickly.
People may use other ways of staying thin, such as taking dieting tablets that will encourage them to use the toilet more, and doing too much exercise. They will often feel fat, even when they are the opposite.
It can be difficult to spot sometimes, and people who suffer from this condition will often go to extreme lengths to hide their behaviour.
Often shortened to bulimia, this is where someone will eat lots of food, then make themselves sick afterwards to empty what they have just eaten.
Being sick after a session of binge eating is referred to as purging.
Bulimia is often easier to hide, as people with it may not look underweight.
Binge eating disorder
This is when someone will be eating an unhealthy amount of food, and loses control of what they are eating, even if they are not hungry.
They will often put on an unhealthy amount of weight.
How to spot signs of eating disorders
There is no simple way to spot someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder.
However, there are little things that could indicate whether the person is having an unhealthy relationship with food. These include:
- An unhealthy interest in how much they weigh
- Exercising too much
- Someone who does not really know how they look - for example, thinking they are overweight when they are not
- Obsessive behaviour
- Feeling excessively tired or sluggish
- Having regular stomach problems, including bloating swelling, and constipation
It is important to note that many of the signs that could indicate an eating disorder may actually be indicating something entirely different.
Where can young people or parents go for help
If you are worried or have concerns about a friend or family member you can speak to a couple of helplines in the UK.
Beat eating disorders offers a free helpline open 365 days a year. They have an adult helpline, youthline and studentline.
The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) has information on their website about cognitive behavioural therapy and related treatments, including details of accredited therapists.
Childline also offers a support line on 0800 1111 for advice on the topic.