When a young person is experiencing disordered eating, they often become preoccupied with food. They may have an illogical fear of 'being fat' or 'becoming fat', and I believe their self worth is determined by their body shape and size. This preoccupation can limit their interest in other activities, as most of their thoughts are consumed by food, or how they can attempt to control their weight.
In addition, if a young person does not eat enough to support their growth and level of activity, it can lead to altered thinking patterns. Intellectual or cognitive tasks will require more effort as concentration, comprehension, judgement, problem solving and decision making ability will be diminished.
Young people are sometimes unable to recognise they have a problem with their eating. This may be because they think that restricting their eating will solve their problems and help them cope. It may also be because their brain is affected by malnutrition. This is called anosognosia.
There is ongoing research into understanding the relationship between the brain and eating and body image problems. More helpful information can be found in 'FEAST: Puzzling Symptoms, A family guide to the neurobiology of eating disorders', which can be located in the FYI Toolkit.
Body image is the way a person thinks and feels about their body, including the way they look. Many different things influence body image. These include a young person's personality, but also messages and feedback they receive from their environment.
In our current social climate where the norm is to be unhappy with your body shape and size, it is difficult for young people to have a good relationship with their body. Young people are constantly inundated with subtle and not so subtle messaging that may inform their feelings about their own body. These messages about how we should and should not look could come from television, magazines, the Internet, friends and family.
If a young person experiences ongoing and distressing body dissatisfaction, it can affect their wellbeing, resulting in low self-esteem, depression and problems with eating.
Eliminate teasing based on appearance in your family and role model body acceptance to your child by not talking about the worries you may have about your own appearance or dieting.
Tell your child often about things you like and appreciate about them which are not to do with their appearance - helping them build a sense of self in which appearance is only one, relatively small component.
Highlight to your child all the good things bodies can do and how useful it is to listen to our body signals for caring for our health and understanding our emotions. Help your child see that media images promote a limited and unrealistic thin ideal, often through techniques like airbrushing and digital manipulation.