Children with eating and body image issues need support and reassurance
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Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, local campaigns manager for the NSPCC says help is available for children worried about their weight
Staying healthy is incredibly important for a child’s development and good nutrition is essential to this.
However, for numerous reasons, sometimes a child’s eating habits can change and parents must always aim to be aware of why these changes have occurred.
It can be tricky, as many children may try to hide these changes for fear of getting into trouble.
We know that during the pandemic we have seen an increase in the number of children and young people contacting Childline regarding eating and body image issues.
Some have experienced unhealthy eating behaviours for the first time, while others have suffered relapses or worsened symptoms of pre-existing conditions.
Many children have expressed fears of putting on weight, a disruption of routines that previously helped maintain a sense of control, overeating or body image problems and reduced access to support services, such as eating disorder clinics, therapists and social workers.
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Last week, the Beat charity held its Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This is a campaign to create a future where people experiencing a binge eating disorder are met with understanding and compassion.
Whilst we know binge eating may be an issue for some, we also know there are other eating disorders to be aware of like anorexia, bulimia and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder to name just a few.
The Childline website has a dedicated section for these conditions as well as advice on staying healthy and getting help.
Our Childline message boards are a place where children and young people can talk to their peers about likeminded worries and concerns.
Often there will be positive accounts of how many other children overcame their disorders or learnt to manage them and, most importantly, a child won’t be alone with their concerns.
It can help to remind them that everyone is different and to try not to compare themselves to anyone else.
Accepting themselves is all about them noticing things they are happy and unhappy about and realising that is what makes them unique. Images they may see on TV, in magazines, in social media or online are often altered and airbrushed so what they are seeing often isn’t real.
These regular informal chats can form a good foundation for both parent and child making the child far more likely to open up, express their feelings and allow themselves to be heard.
And whilst no parent wants their child to not eat properly or stop eating altogether, remembering to remain calm and supportive is paramount as anger can easily cause the child to withhold information at a later date.
Body positivity movements continue to press on with various campaigns and many social media adverts and magazines now present beautiful models of all shapes and sizes, but many will argue that there is a long way to go before this type of stigma is stamped out completely and while it continues many children will be wrapped up in its suffocating restrictions.
Discrimination often starts at home, but it doesn’t need to continue to exist there.
Everyone is made differently and if a child is worried they have put on too much weight, why not start a fun and positive family activity such as a family bike ride as spring begins to bloom.
If a child is struggling with an eating or body image disorder it is important they know there are adults in their life they can turn to for help and support.
This could be a parent, a teacher, a sibling over the age of 18 or a grandparent. They can also talk to a Childline counsellor on 0800 1111 or visit www.Childline.org.uk for advice in our dedicated eating problems section.
If you are an adult concerned about a child you can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, advice can be found online at www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk and the NHS website.