New fundraising challenge launched to mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week

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This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so here Leonora Langley, author of the book, Let the Souls of Our Children Sing, suggests ways that parents and guardians can support children suffering with an eating disorder…


BEAT (formerly the Eating Disorders Association) believe that ‘no one should face an eating disorder alone’ and, in this spirit, this year they are launching a new fundraising challenge with their annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 28 to March 6).

One in 50 people (1.25 million) in the UK is affected by eating disorders, often in secret. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour including bulimia, binge eating, avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) and anorexia, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. While 95 per cent of people who suffer from them are between the ages of 12 and 25, teenagers between 13 and 17 are most at risk. More common in females, they are not determined by sex and can affect all genders, races and ethnic groups.

While many relate eating disorders to teenage girls who can be hyper-focused on their weight and body shape, men now represent roughly 10 per cent of those treated for eating disorders. With social media portraying the ideal male body as muscular and toned, and 90 per cent of teenage boys exercising with the purpose of bulking up, body image pressure is one of the strongest predictors of an eating disorder in men.

Some of the feelings an individual with an eating disorder may experience are an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted self-image, a compulsion to check out perceived flaws in the mirror, low self-worth and self-esteem, a preoccupation with food and self-consciousness around eating in public, social withdrawal and secrecy around food, eating small or restrictive portions or ranges of food, binge eating, unusual food rituals and experimentation with fad diets, repeated weighing of their body, mood swings and compulsive or excessive exercising.

Young people’s problems with food can begin as a coping strategy for times when they are bored, anxious, angry, lonely, ashamed or sad. Since the pandemic, an increasing number of children have experienced difficulty communicating negative emotions and an inability to resolve conflict as the result of emotional pain which might have been unexpressed, repressed or suppressed. Food insecurity among adults and children nearly doubled to almost 30 per cent by the summer of 2020, due to rising levels of unemployment, poverty and limited access to school nutrition as the result of school closures.

If a child is having a problem with their nutritional habits and showing signs of disease, there are a number of useful strategies that parents and guardians can employ to help the sufferer feel they are not alone.

Ideally, parents need to act as role models of healthy eating behaviour without using food as a reward or punishment. In terms of verbal communication, a good starting point is to create a safe place where the young person with the eating disorder can speak, be listened to and not be judged by an adult who inflicts the idea that they have all the answers. It can be useful to chat about whether social media or peer pressure causes them insecurity about their appearance.

On a practical level, parents and family members can get involved with children in planning and preparing meals, setting up a regular snack and meal schedule and encouraging the family to eat together. If the problem persists, they need to help the sufferer seek professional intervention, in the form of specialist treatment and support to assist them on their road to recovery.


Leonora Langley will be doing a presentation and book signing for Let the Souls of Our Children Sing at Daily Bread, Rusthall High Street, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday March 21 from 10.45am to 12.45pm.

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