In reality, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia can affect anyone. But statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show the most common age for a teenage girl being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder is 15, while this age lowers to 13 for boys.
Why do teenagers develop eating disorders?
Everyone is different and an eating disorder is a complex condition. There isn't a single reason why it may be happening, but there are plenty of theories about what may be making a problem worse: one common symptom can be low self-esteem. Other factors include:
- the death of a loved one or other traumatic events
- stress - from exams or social expectations, for example
- struggling with a long-term illness or disability
Preparing meals for teenagers with eating disorders
The earlier your son or daughter gets professional help and support, the better. But in the meantime, it makes sense to help as much as you can at home. If your teenager is already getting treatment, talk to the treatment team to find out what’s recommended – not only in terms of meal planning, but also behaviour at mealtimes. The NHS advises:
- Shopping together and agreeing which meals will be prepared during the week
- Asking your teem to set the table or wash up (particularly if they’re trying to ‘control’ the actual cooking in some way)
- Not talking about portion sizes, calories or fat content
How can I support my teenager with an eating disorder?
Make sure your child feels comfortable and safe at home, be mindful of not exposing them to your worries or concerns too much: it just adds to the stress. At mealtimes:
- Don't focus on them - make sure conversation is light, enjoy your meal
- Think about organising family activities like cleaning up or watching TV to take their minds off purging or exercising away the food they've just eaten
- If a meal doesn't go as you planned, don't dwell on it
Let your child know you’re there, and you’re easy to talk to, but don't put increase the pressure to change things too quickly. It's a fine balancing act and generally a slow process. As well as seeking out advice from your GP, charity groups and support networks can help. Young Minds and Beat both run helplines for parents of teenagers struggling with eating disorders.