Eating Disorders

Mental Health   ›   Eating Disorders

Eating disorders among youth can present themselves through exaggerated behaviours towards food and can have negative consequences for their physical and mental health. What actions can you take if your child has an eating disorder?

Different Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders. The most well-known are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. 


These disorders are characterized by extreme and disproportionate beliefs and behaviours related to food and weight that are dangerous to one’s health.




  • Involves using extreme, excessive methods of losing weight.
  • Body image is distorted; the person believes they’re overweight even if they’re actually underweight.
  • Causes feelings of guilt and discomfort in their own skin.
  • Behaviour includes food restriction.




  • Involves eating much more food than normal in a short amount of time (binging), even if the person is already full.
  • Involves an intense, irrational fear of gaining weight.
  • Behaviour includes attempts to ‘purge’ the food in unhealthy ways.
  • Causes feelings of guilt and a loss of control over what the person is eating.
  • Causes physical discomfort.


Binge Eating


  • Involves eating much more food than normal in a short amount of time (binging), even if the person is no longer hungry and feels uncomfortable.
  • Does not involve attempts to ‘purge’ the food.
  • Involves feelings of a loss of control; the person feels like they cannot stop themselves from binging.




  • Associated with the belief that the person is too skinny or not muscular enough.
  • Behaviour includes setting strict rules for themselves, especially regarding physical activity.
  • Causes feelings of guilt and shame if the person is unable to follow their own rules.
  • Causes the person to neglect hobbies and relaxation time.




  • Obsession with healthy eating.
  • Behaviour includes picky eating, often with a focus on nutritional value.
  • Often causes social isolation because of the impact the behaviour has on the person’s life.


The Consequences of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be harmful to a person’s physical and mental health, and even affect interpersonal relationships. If you believe your child has symptoms of an eating disorder, it’s important that they see a doctor or other healthcare professional as soon as possible. Otherwise, the disorder, and the physical and mental consequences it brings, may get worse.


Encouraging a Healthy Relationship with Food at Home

Here are some ways you can encourage your family to have a healthy relationship with food: 


  • Encourage everyone to eat a wide array of healthy foods (try everything)
  • Avoid commenting on weight, both your own and that of others’
  • Make mealtimes happy and enjoyable
  • Avoid messages that promote thinness as ideal, or that advertise the benefits of dieting
  • Work on developing a sense of self-esteem that isn’t based on appearance; for example, try to celebrate your child’s successes in different areas
  • Have various types of role models at home.


How to Help a Child who has an Eating Disorder

  • Give advice, model a positive attitude, and simply be there to build up your child’s self-image and help them learn to identify and criticize social pressure. In short, help them learn to love themselves as they are.
  • Use ‘I’ statements when you’re talking about your concerns. For example: “I’m worried, you seem unhappy and you’re isolating yourself”.
  • Help them figure out the root of their problems and find solutions.
  • Avoid talking about food, weight, and appearance, because it can reinforce mistaken beliefs.
  • Remind them that you care about them. Offer support and a listening ear and encourage them to talk to a professional, like a doctor, nurse, a school or CLSC counsellor, or Tel-Jeunes.
  • Take care of yourself; ask for help if the situation feels like too much to handle on your own.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to a healthcare professional if you think your child’s concerns are becoming intrusive or causing behavioural changes (like dieting, vomiting, having certain fixations or compulsions related to food, hyperactivity, isolation, or weight loss/gain).