In recent years the occurrence of eating disorders among young people has significantly increased. The number of hospital admissions for young people 14 years and younger has increased by 220 per cent and for adolescents 15-24 years, by 164 per cent. It is more common among females—up to 13 per cent of young women experience a diagnosable eating disorder in their lifetime and 25 per cent of women, at any one time, experience sub-threshold symptoms that significantly impact their lives. Increasingly though, males are experiencing this too, with growing numbers seeking help. 

Living with and supporting someone with an eating disorder can be extremely difficult. It can bring up many feelings of frustration, confusion, powerlessness, resentment, self-doubt, self-blame, and even anger. However, it is important to remember that eating disorders are never a choice. They are in fact a serious biologically influenced illness.

While there is no single cause for eating disorders, recent research highlights that genetic, psychological and social factors all play a part. For many young people, developing an eating disorder is more than the desire to lose weight. Perfectionism, and the need for control are correlated with eating disorders. Therefore, understanding eating disorders can sometimes be extremely difficult for families to navigate. It can have an emotional and financial toll on every member of the family. Having an open and honest conversation about this very sensitive topic is the first step, but it is important to approach it in a non-judgmental and non-shaming way.

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. They are treatable and full recovery is possible for everyone with the help of medical professionals. Parents are urged to remain patient, calm, considered, and factual when supporting their young person. If you feel that your child or adolescent is developing an unhealthy relationship with either their food, weight or body, then early support is key and usually, your general practitioner is the first port of call. 

If you are worried that your young person may have an eating disorder, click here to access a useful online tool to highlight common warning signs. These signs on their own do not unequivocally diagnose a young person with an eating disorder, but they are common in those with an eating disorder. Using a BMI (Body Mass Index) calculator as a general indicator can be helpful, but do not rely completely on this. A young person may still be developing an eating disorder yet show a BMI in the normal range.

As child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward says, eating disorders are never a choice. They are, in fact, a serious biologically influenced illness. Families are not to blame and with the right support, they can be their loved one’s best ally and supporter in terms of treatment options.

Should your young person feel the need to talk to someone outside the family, encourage them to contact the Guidance Department and speak to one of the counselling team or call one of the following support services.

  • Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland – available 24/7
  • Youthline on 0800 376 633
  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 – available 24/7
  • Kidsline on 0800 543 754 – available 24/7

SchoolTV has a good special report on eating disorders given by child and adolescent psychologist Dr Emma Woodward. I encourage you to watch it for a further understanding of these conditions. To access this special report, please click here.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your young person, please do not hesitate to contact the counselling team at Rangitoto College or reach out for other medical or professional support.

Jay Smith, Head of Guidance