With around two million people battling an eating disorder and the average age of the onset being 16-17 years of age, Claire Hailwood shares how she navigates the world of diets in her home


Having teenagers in the age of TikTok means that we are used to various trends circulating online. From recipes for potions that promise nail growth to new ways of baking, our kitchen has seen lots of experimental action.

As a teenager I chose to be a vegetarian. At various times, the teenagers in my world have tried being vegan, pescatarian and gluten free (so far). After Christmas, like many across the UK I started to choose a healthy breakfast, swapping a pop tart for a homemade healthy smoothie, and one of our teenagers joined me (while the other protested at the lack of sugar available before 8am)

But what if healthy eating or experimenting with food becomes concerning? Healthy eating, even with some bizarre recipes feels fine, but there’s a line, beyond which feels more worrying?

We love baking things that we’ve seen online but what if that drifts towards excessive sugar and feels unhealthy?

Or do I have a distorted perspective on it because of all that I see online about teenagers and eating disorders, and risk projecting that on to our teenagers?

Where’s the line? And if my child has already crossed it or I’m worried they have, what do I do?

And how do I ensure that I’m not perpetuating or imposing what society says is ‘healthy’ or ‘beautiful’ and give the teenagers in our home even more of a complex?

Don’t panic!

During adolescence the body changes hugely in shape and that is totally normal but can also be super challenging. As an adult female I stand at a gloriously average 1.65m but I was this height at ten-years-old. At age four, my (very) petite Mum was told I may end up being over two metres tall. We all grow differently and the more we can normalize this the better.

It’s normal for some young people to fill out a bit before a surge upwards, which is fine once you’re taller but can make you feel incredibly self conscious beforehand. For girls, the arrival of curves and a radical change of body shape that can happen quickly can cause panic. If that coincides with something on social media that promises a slimmer, different shape, without support, it can lead young people down a difficult path.

If we panic, we will only pour fuel on the fire. We need to respond in a measured, open way!

Keep conversation open

We can worry that by talking about something we’re putting more ideas in their head. Actually, by talking about this, we’re normalising the subject and creating safety around it, within which our teenagers (and we) can learn.

Model it

What’s your relationship with food? Is it healthy or disordered in some way? What we do around food speaks even louder than what we say sometimes (however good we are at hiding it!)

Perhaps in having open conversations with our teenagers, we need to talk about our experience and feelings, as a way of journeying it with them? Being a parent is about teaching and learning and this might be an area where we get to do both? As a Chrstian parent I want to rejoice in the good food that God has given me to enjoy. (’For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’ ( 1 Timothy 4:4).

Learn and read

What if you’re sure that there are some disordered eating issues that your teenager is struggling with? It’s a scary place and can feel overwhelming. Here are three things to do next

1. Go and see your GP who should be a great first port of call. Perhaps go on your own initially if your teenager isn’t open to coming too. Lean in to their general expertise and allow them to guide you to the specialists close to you.

2. BEAT are an amazing organization who are experts in the field. Go learn and read all that they have to help you consider your next steps to getting support your teenager

3. PRAY and ask one or two trusted people around you to do the same so that you have some support alongside you as you journey with your precious teenager.