At EDA we speak to thousands of parents each year and know that however old your child is, you are always a parent. We are here to listen to you and to encourage you during this very difficult period, letting you offload some of the tension and heartache. We are here to inform you about the treatment and support options available through the NHS, providing you with guidance on how to access services, both medical and therapeutic. Our help is particular sought after since those struggling with eating disorders are often in denial or resistant to seeking and accepting treatment. The information in this section we hope will provide you with some answers and reassurance, but to speak to a member of our Parent Services, please contact us via the Family and Friends Helpline on 03000 111213 or email us at


The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders by EDA's Jane Smith

"An emotive subject is tackled in a practical and accessible way in this down-to-earth guide. Eating disorders are becoming increasing common and cause heartbreak for families who are affected. This book is written for parents by parents, meaning that the suggestions are based on real-life experiences. The first chapters focus on suspecting and then discovering an eating disorder. It then goes on with help on getting a diagnosis and how to manage the situation. Full of practical experiences and quotations, and addressing issues facing boys and fathers as well as girls and mothers, this book really 'talks' to parents."

Click here to order

Adult Children

It is particularly hard for parents to provide help and encouragement for a child if the child no longer lives at home. You will be anxious about their health and the risks but are excluded from the facts and from helping them. Sometimes the emotion makes the relationship strained and makes it more difficult for them to ‘open up’, but it also gives the eating disorder the opportunity to grow undisturbed. If your ‘child’ is an adult, you can still help, guiding them to consider the pros and the cons of their eating disorder. Of course there may be someone else in a better position than you to take things forward, a sister, boyfriend, partner, an aunt or close family friend.

Younger Children 

We receive calls and emails about children as young as 4 years old showing signs of disordered eating and emotional distress around food, and so we are always pleased to talk to parents and family members with concerns. Early onset eating disorders are rising, with cases of children of 9, 10, 11 now not uncommon.

Younger children tend to react in a more dramatic way in the early stages of the illness, often stopping drinking as well as eating, being quite naive in their approach and often becoming very ill very quickly. Younger children are also growing rapidly and therefore require greater amounts of energy in calories than older children or adults. Therefore if they are restricting their food intake, they can lose weight very easily and quickly and so advice and monitoring from the GP is recommended at the earliest opportunity. As many young children can be very selective with food , many Gps admit that they would not initially consider an eating disorder as a cause of weight loss or appetite disturbance in children under 12. That being said, younger children should not be losing weight unless they really need to do so – and in this case it should be supervised by a GP or dietician. Weight loss should always be taken seriously, so if you are concerned, do seek advice quickly. Equally, any nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and feelings of bloating, need investigating by a GP in order to rule out other medical conditions. Our downloadable booklet Understanding Eating Disorders outlines food phobia and food avoidance emotional disorder.

Although any disordered eating in younger children is very worrying and potentially serious, an advantage for parents is that younger children are generally more likely to follow parents’ advice and methods. Therefore with help and mindful of time, families can often be helped to ‘turn things around’ at home.

Here For You

At our parent and carers service you can talk to trained staff and also a parent who has themselves been through the experience of watching a child struggle with an eating disorder and then seen them go on to recovery. Whilst no two cases are identical, we can offer understanding and the opportunity in confidence to discuss ways of helping your child and the whole family.

Some of the ways EDA supports parents and carers:

  • Listening from a basis of experience and understanding

  • On going personal support for you whenever or as often as you need

  • Email support, advice and encouragement

  • Advising you how to get help from the NHS

  • Helping you if you suspect an eating disorder

  • Helping you manage an eating disorder, the practical and the emotional

  • Publications and resources 

  • A Befriending Service offering you regular on-going telephone support


Suspecting An Eating Disorder

If you suspecting that someone you love and care for has an eating disorder, or you have made some discoveries that worry you, then we do recognise your fears and heartache but invite you to get in touch because studies show that the sooner someone with eating distress is given help and support, the swifter their recovery (Nice Gudelines) Parents tell us that they do not know how to begin to tackle the situation and do not know where to turn to for help or advice and that our helpline “ Calmed me, gave me reassurance and things to do and try for the better Talking with someone who understood exactly what I was facing and feeling was SO helpful.” Do feel free to call and talk it through on the helpline, or contact us with your concerns by email.

Signs to look out for

  • A change in mood – sadness, depression, anger, withdrawal, tearfulness

  • Tactics and excuses to avoid eating

  • Dieting or refusing certain foods or fats, carbohydrates, and snacks

  • Weight loss unless on a medically instructed or supervised diet

  • Signs of self-induced vomiting with or without weight loss

  • Stress, anxiety, pressure of work, or school coupled with a changing attitude towards food or eating

  • Friendship and relationship problems in addition to a changing attitude towards food or eating

  • Perfectionism and obsession with achievement 

  • Addiction to sports and exercise; over-exercising

  • Complaining of stomach aches and feeling full

  • Low self-esteem, body hatred, and self-hatred

  • Lethargy, tiredness, but not sleeping well at night

  • Constantly feeling cold, and trying to keep warm with baths/showers

  • Wearing clothes that are too big or having to buy clothes a size or two smaller than normal

  • Hair loss or hair lacking lustre, growth of fine body hair particularly on backbone or arms

  • Irregularities with periods, stopping altogether or failing to start at puberty

  • Frequently visiting the bathroom directly after meals

  • Signs of vomiting including raw knuckles, sore throats, swollen salivary glands


Understanding Eating Disorders

We know from feedback from parents that trying to make sense of an eating disorder is something needed by family members.

It’s not something you get training for, or much advice beforehand, and suddenly being faced with restricted eating or binging or purging completely threw us into confusion and anxiety. It made us question ourselves and our parenting skills. Understanding why and whether what we were facing was typical rather than ‘just us’, was really important.”

The following is taken from EDA’s Training module for GPs written for the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)

Eating disorders are not ‘new’ conditions and there are documented cases throughout history which demonstrate emotional relationships with food and eating.

At the root of an eating disorder is most often an emotional issue or even trauma, for example, bullying, a breakdown in relationships (parents, friends etc), redundancy, bereavement or abuse. Low self-esteem, and perfectionism are also risk factors. Other elements such as academic or social pressure and the effects of the media and the more recent dieting culture also play a role. 

There is felt to be a genetic predisposition in terms of personality. Those at risk often exhibit perfectionism, anxiety, sensitivity, an inability to assert or express feelings and communicate. Those with autism spectrum disorders are at risk as are those in certain professions such as ballet, performing arts, gymnastics, sport. Those institutionalised such as looked after children, those in boarding schools, adult prisoners are also at greater risk.

Recent research using neuro-imaging in patients with Anorexia has clearly indicated that blood flow was abnormal within the insular cortex. Importantly, even when patients were restored to a healthy weight, abnormalities in the insula remained.

It is important to realise that an eating disorder often begins as a short-term coping strategy, which, if left un-treated can then develop into an illness that takes over a person’s life, most significantly their rational mental faculty and willingness to seek treatment or recovery. 

  • Eating disorders affect men and women of all ages, including children but are more prevalent in women and young people aged 14- 25, usually developing in the teenage years 

  • The average age of onset of Anorexia Nervosa is 16 - 17 yet the number of cases of children affected  and cases of early onset continues to rise

  •  The average age of onset of Bulimia Nervosa is 18 or 19 years 


The Path to an Eating Disorder

Whatever the eating disorder, the root is usually the same. Eating disorders usually start when someone who is already struggling with the things life is throwing at them begins to believe that maybe their life would be better if they were thinner. Often this belief has a root in low self-esteem and poor body image – someone who is not very confident and doesn’t like themselves, which combined with the emotional issue or difficulty they’re experiencing, affects their relationship with food and eating. They believe that losing weight would help them to get on with people and feel less alone. For others there is something very powerful about feeling in control of everything – and they feel that their weight is one very clear indicator of how in control they are. 

For more information, please download our Understanding Eating Disorders Guide here

Discovering an Eating Disorder

Discovering that your child has an eating disorder is a very shocking and frightening experience. It may be that now after weeks or even months of suspicion you’re pretty convinced that your fears are founded. On the other hand, you may have discovered that your child has an eating disorder quite suddenly and totally unexpectedly. Maybe you’ve accidentally come across a diary entry, for example, that really confirms it. Perhaps your son or daughter has confided in you and you now know for certain that they have an eating disorder.

Someone else may even have alerted you: schoolteachers; a colleague of your child; or one of their friends or partners. Or maybe you have arrived at this point because you have noticed changes in them; not just in their eating and weight, but also in their mood and personality.

  • Admit the problem to yourself and get help and advice

  • Encourage them to talk to you or somebody else their trust about their difficulties 

  • Try to get them to communicate and listen to them without interrupting, avoiding confrontation and arguments

  • Do everything you can to stop them getting anxious, particularly around food or at meal times

  • Continue to provide normal meals for them and insist as firmly as you can that they eat these, without coming to blows

  • Tell them that one of the consequences of not eating in terms of lacking energy means that you cannot let them continue doing sport, things at school, hobbies or even going to school, that could cause further weight loss

  • Talk to other members of your family and ask them to avoid continuously probing your child

  • Show unconditional love, support and understanding despite their behaviour and irrational tendencies

  • Build trust by keeping their confidence

  • If your child is still at school or college have a word in confidence with their tutor or head of year and let them know what is happening. If your child is a boarder then it is very important to keep in regular touch with the school. Ask them to minimise work pressure on your child, observe them generally, and keep a discrete watch at lunchtimes and to report back to you.


For more information, encouragment and practical suggestions, you can order 'The Parent's Guide To Eating Disorders' through our shop

If you are a concerned parent or carer and would like further information and the chance to talk through some of your fears with a member of the EDA team, please contact us