Eating Disorders

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders involve harmful thoughts and feelings that affect the way a person feels about food and see their body. It's important to remember that this is about much more than food - it's about how a person feels and copes with his/her feelings. It's very important to get help from a doctor, a therapist, or nutritionist if you have an eating disorder because disordered eating may be very harmful to your health. Doctors don't know the exact reasons that lead a person to develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders typically affect girls more than boys. However, eating disorders can happen to anyone, no matter their age, gender, or, background. 

The names of some common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • and binge-eating disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

This disorder affects how people feel about their body and how they eat. People with anorexia often think that their body is bigger than it is. They may worry about becoming fat, even though they are losing weight. They won't eat, or eat less than their body needs, even though they may be hungry. They don’t get the nutrients they need to build a healthy body. It is important to remember that warning signs can start long before you notice a person losing weight.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia affects how a person feels about their body and how they eat. People with bulimia will eat a large amount of food in a short period of time. Their will feel out of control of their eating. This is called bingeing. A person will then try different behaviours, like vomiting, in an attempt to get rid of the calories because they are scared they will gain weight. This is called purging. People might not lose weight and it might be difficult to tell as they will binge and purge in secret. Even though bulimia isn’t always as visible as anorexia, it can still cause serious health problems.

Bulimia affects how a person feels about their body and how they eat. People with bulimia will eat a large amount of food in a short period of time. They will feel out of control of their eating. This is called bingeing. A person will then try different behaviours, like vomiting, in an attempt to get rid of the calories because they are scared they will gain weight. This is called purging. A person with bulimia might not lose weight, and because they binge and purge in secret, it might be difficult to tell they have a disorder. Even though bulimia isn’t always as visible as anorexia, it can still cause serious health problems.

Binge-eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder (BED) affects how people eat. A person who binges will eat a large amount of food in a short period of time on a regular basis, and feel out of control. They might eat large amounts, even if they are not hungry. They typically feel guilty or depressed after eating, and may eat alone because they are embarrassed about their eating. The difference between binge-eating disorder and bulimia is that people with binge-eating disorder don't try to purge or get rid of the calories they just ate. Sometimes binge eating is called compulsive eating.

How do I know if it's an Eating Disorder?

Children have certain ways of thinking about themselves. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge binge-eating eating disorder may have a greater effect on your child if they do not like the way they look.. Your child may be very concerned about his/her shape or weight. They may also have a difficult time expressing their feelings. Anorexia and bulimia may give your child a sense of control. The eating disorder may be a way to cope if they feel they have little control in their life.

Children and youth are often very good at hiding an eating disorder, but here are signs to watch for. A child with an eating disorder may:.

  • eat very little, count calories, and only eat healthy foods
  • spend a lot of time thinking and talking about food
  • think about dieting and their weight all the time
  • start missing menstrual periods
  • visit the bathroom immediately after eating
  • have a lot of tooth decay and other problems
  • lose weight although he/she talks all the time about feeling fat
  • show physical signs their body isn’t getting enough nutrients such as hair loss, dry skin, dizziness or lack of energy
  • avoid eating even when hungry, or skip meals saying that he/she is not hungry. Your child might also eat in secret
  •  focus on body image as well as weight
  • weigh themselves often.
  • exercise all the time and wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss 

What can be done?

It’s very important to get help because eating disorders, can cause serious health problems.When detected early, eating disorders respond well to treatment. Many children and youth recover with support from different health experts. This includes:

  • Regular medical check-ups are important to monitor and treat physical health problems.
  • counselling will help children/youth understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Family counselling also helps the entire family understand the disorder and what it is doing to the family.
  • A nutritionist can help you and your child learn about food and help your family create healthy meal plans.
  • support groups for yourself and your child can help you see that you aren’t alone. You can learn new ways of coping and find support from others.

If your child weighs too little, has serious disordered eating (like binge-eating and/or purging) or starts to develop serious health problems, then they he/she may need to be treated in the hospital.

Medication usually isn’t the first option.  Some research suggests that certain drugs can help people living with eating disorders.

In addition to treatment from professionals, there are also things you can try at home to help your child cope during this difficult time. Caregivers can help their child to:

  • get enough sleep
  • learn strategies to manage stress and solve problems
  • spend time with family and friends doing things they enjoy
  • learn and use relaxation techniques 

Where to from here? 

Talk to your doctor and look for help from a mental health professional by:

For additional information about options for support and treatment in BC, visit the Finding Help section of our site.

Below you will find some key resources. A full list of resources are on the right hand side bar. 

Kelty Eating Disorders Microsite
The Kelty Eating Disorders Microsite has more detailed information on eating disorders, a finding help tool, and resources.

From Survive to Thrive: a resource for recovering from an eating disorder, written by those with lived experience
The “From Survive to Thrive” Guide is written by individuals with firsthand experience of struggling with an eating disorder or body image and eating issues. Contributors to this resource have provided basic information and practical advice on how to overcome challenges that are common during the recovery process. The Guide features advice, tools, tips, and strategies on coping with and recovering from an eating disorder. This guide is also available for e-readers free of charge on iTunes and Chapters/Kobobooks!

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.