Dumfries & Galloway Health & Social Care

Eating Disorder Information for Young People and Parents and Carers

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating Disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: In this condition there is significantly low weight and/or weight loss and a fear of eating along with anxiety about weight, shape and possible hormonal disturbance (loss of menstruation).  People with Anorexia may also use other methods to achieve weight loss such as over exercising.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: In this condition there is recurrent binge eating as well as purging the body by vomiting or other means, along with over concern about weight and shape.
  • Atypical Eating Disorder: In this condition there are serious signs of an eating disorder but it does not fulfil all the criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. In all of these conditions the young person will have significant concerns about their weight and shape.

Not all eating problems are eating disorders, sometimes we see reduced appetite, weight loss secondary to low mood or anxiety. Concerns around body image are also very common within adolescence. Eating disorders affect both boys and girls, and across age ranges, but we most commonly see them in girls during adolescence.

Often young people with an eating disorder are secretive about it, and hide their behaviours. It is important to note not everyone with an eating disorder is underweight.

Spotting the Signs Of An Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders are very complex, not every sufferer experiences identical symptoms. Often, eating disorder sufferers experience other physical or mental health problems simultaneously with their eating disorder. These may have developed because of or alongside the eating disorder, or may have actually played a role in the development of the eating disorder in the first place. 

There are a number of behavioural, psychological and physical signs which signal the presence or onset of an eating disorder. Those who suffer from an eating disorder or an emerging eating disorder, may display a range of symptoms or very few.  It is very common for someone with an eating disorder to try hard to hide their behaviours. This makes it very challenging to recognize the symptoms of their condition, particularly during the early stages.

There are, however, a few things to look out for which could be a tell-tale sign of an eating disorder or of an emerging eating disorder. Of course, not every sufferer will show all of these symptoms or signs, and, indeed, people who display some of these symptoms may not have an eating disorder at all. However, this list is a good place to start if you’re worried someone.

Physical Signs

  • Frequent dieting or very fast weight loss
  • Disturbed or lost menstruation
  • Decreased libido 
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Swelling around the jaw or cheeks,
  • Feeling cold even during warm weather
  • Stomach cramps
  • Difficulty in focusing or concentrating
  • Slow heart rate 
  • Dry skin and nails
  • Thinning hair
  • Development of fine hair all over the body

Psychological Signs

  • An obsession with weight, body shape, food and eating
  • Feeling as if they can’t control themselves around food
  • Feeling irritable or anxious at mealtimes
  • Using food to comfort themselves
  • Distorted body image
  • Using food to punish themselves
  • Signs of anxiety and low mood

Behaviour Signs

  • Dieting behaviour such as counting calories, fasting, avoiding carbohydrates or fats
  • Frequently going to the bathroom during meals or just after eating
  • Evidence of overeating such as hoarding food or finding empty wrappers hidden away
  • Vomiting
  • Wearing large and oversized clothing
  • Changed food preferences, no longer eating foods they used to enjoy, replacing normal meals with fluids or suddenly becoming obsessed with healthy eating
  • Developing obsessive rituals surrounding eating and food preparation such as eating extremely slowly, cutting up food into tiny pieces or eating at precisely the same hour every day.
  • Becoming secretive around food such as saying they’ve already eaten if they haven’t or hiding food which hasn’t been eaten
  • Frequently avoiding meals including arranging other activities as a valid reason to avoid the meal (eg. staying behind at school to study, seeing friends)
  • Young people keen to cook meals but not eat them. 
  • Reluctant to have other people to cook their meals.  
  • Starting to become more isolated and withdrawn from usual activities and friends
  • Starting to be worried about eating food in front of other people
  • They might be visiting websites that promote eating disorders

How to Get Help?

It can be difficult to know when to ask for help from your GP or School Nurse, maybe you worry you’d be wasting their time, or it would mean admitting that there is a problem. However, people are more likely to get better if they ask for help early so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you’re worried.

We accept referrals from anyone involved with the young person who has concerns.  You could be referred from your GP and other professionals who are involved with you such as your school, or you can Self Refer, look in our young people and parents and carers referral section for more information.

If your referral is not from a GP, we will generally ask you to see your GP for a physical assessment and blood tests. 

Once we’ve received your referral you will usually be invited for an assessment appointment, we aim to see you within 4 weeks, however often it is much sooner than this. 

Specialist treatment, if appropriate, is often started on the day of assessment.

Treatment For Eating Disorders?

For children and young people the evidence shows that a family based approach is most effective, we call this FBT (Family Based Treatment). This involves the family coming together, in clinic this can include siblings where appropriate, and the aim is to identify how the family can support their child’s recovery.

Throughout treatment we will also carry out physical monitoring, this includes checking weight, blood pressure, blood tests as required.

The length of treatment will usually depend on the severity and history of the eating disorder. Generally treatment will be more intensive at the start and appointments will become further apart as recovery progresses.

Eating Disorders can be life threatening, and in some occasions we may have to consider inpatient treatment, if a young person’s physical or mental health is at significant risk. In this case it is sometimes necessary to refer a young person to the local paediatric ward at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary (DGRI) or the inpatient adolescent unit (Skye House Glasgow) for a short period of inpatient care.

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