The Rise of Eating Disorders in Children (and why now is the time to Love Your Body)


As my friend looked down at her perfect little 5 year old daughter, she noticed she was squeezing her thighs. She looked up with concern in her eyes. “Mummy” she said “I’m worried that I’m going to get fat. I don’t want my thighs to get any bigger and I think my tummy is a bit fat too”. So just to remind you, when my friend’s daughter said this, she was 5 years old. 5.

My friend recalled the sick feeling she felt and how suddenly her heart started to beat hard. Whilst, this may have just been a flippant, passing comment, it filled her and me in turn, with dread and sadness. My three biggest fears I have for my daughter? Her safety, being bullied and eating disorders.

Why at 5 years old should a girl’s body shape be of concern to her? Why is she already thinking negatively about her body? And where has she got this attitude from?

In 2011, a report showed that out of 2,000 children treated for eating disorders, 98 were aged between 5-7 years (99 were aged between 8-9 years, 400 aged between 10-12 years and 1,500 aged between 13-15 years). There is as could be predicted, a larger number of girls affected than boys. Nine times as many girls were admitted than boys. The increase of children admitted to hospital with eating disorders from 2003 to 2013 was 172%. More than 90% of them were young girls. This isn’t reflective of what is truly going on as most people with eating disorders are treated in outpatient or private clinics and of course, some people aren’t treated at all. Therefore, the number of children with eating disorders is greater than what we see in reports.

So, this begs the question, what has caused this and what can we do about the disturbing increase of eating disorders in young women and children?

This article in the Guardian, suggests it is children’s exposure to the body images of celebrities. Dr Colin Michie, the chairman of the nutrition committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, blamed the constant availability of these images to children has increased eating disorders in them.

Social media can also be blamed. Young people are frequently posting images of themselves on social media for people to “like”. This constant need for the approval of their physical self can create an obsession with their body image, that in some cases could lead to eating disorders.

In 2015, the BBC reported that there was a sharp increase of schoolgirls at risk of emotional problems (where as boys’ risk remained stable). The Scientists behind the study reported that one of the reasons behind this is “a drive to achieve unrealistic body images perpetuated by social media and an increasing sexualisation of young women.” 

The only positive aspect to the increase in cases reported is that maybe either more people are seeking help for their disorder or doctors are quicker or better at diagnosing it.

As a child, I never thought about my body shape. I was never concerned with the size of my stomach or shape of my legs. As a teenager, whilst I was obviously more conscious of my body and it’s never-ending changes (and now in my 40s, it’s still changing!), I never gave much thought to my body shape and certainly nothing ever came between me and my love for food (and here I am 20 odd years later and still food is seemingly my top priority. After my daughter of course. Maybe).

So, what was the key factor in my attitude towards my own body as child and teenager? The obvious answer could be, as mentioned above, that there was no social media in my youth and less obsession with celebrities’ bodies. Whilst there was some discourse surrounding famous women’s bodies, it was never at the disturbing levels we see today. I don’t ever remember articles in my Mum’s magazines shaming women about their bodies.

However, I firmly believe the main reason I had a healthy body image was because of my own mother. I don’t ever remember her complaining about her body or putting herself down. The word “diet’ was never uttered by her. I only remember her once mentioning wanting to exercise more. Also, she never compared her body to other women’s bodies or even complimented other women’s bodies. In fact, once on holiday I remember my brother and I teasing my mum about her ‘spare tyre’ and my mum just shrugging and laughing it off. I know, we sounded like such lovely & charming children. The point is my mum was so outwardly comfortable in her own skin and at ease with her body shape, we could crack these kind of jokes around her. It’s worth noting that my mother equally encouraged me to clear my dinner plate as much as my brother was and I was congratulated when I did so.

Also, I  remember my mum telling me that she loved her stretch marks on her stomach as they were a reminder of her children and what her marvellous had body achieved.

This is a solid point. Women’s bodies should be celebrated and not shamed. Why are people more willing to do the latter than the former? Whether it’s with regards to other people’s bodies or their own? Why don’t we hear of more New Year’s resolutions about accepting and loving our bodies rather than depriving or punishing them?

From reading and researching various articles on eating disorders in young children and through my own personal experiences, I’ve compiled a list of possible ways to prevent eating disorders in young children.

1. Avoid talking about your own weight and dieting.  As mentioned above. It’s a non-brainer. What we vocalise in the home has a huge impact on young ears. Also, when we treat ourselves to a slice of cake, can we stop saying “ooh I know it’s naughty”. Cake is not naughty, it’s bloody delicious. Life is hard, eat the cake. Guilt free.

2. Don’t tease a girl about their body and/or weight. Up to 40% of girls are teased and this can double their risk of being overweight and causing eating disorders.

3. Have plenty of sit down family meals. This one is not always possible everyday, but it’s worth bearing in mind that as parents we are role models and our eating habits can influence our children’s. Personally, I fail doing this in the week, but Friday-Sunday, we always make this obligatory.

4. Explain that images of women in media are unrealistic. We should protect our children from society’s emphasis on body shape and weight. I adore the women on social media who portray their bodies realistically. The model Charli Howard who is the founder of the All Woman Project is a fantastic role model for young women. She describes herself as a body positive activist and her Instagram account features numerous realistic and untouched photos of her showing off her lumps, bumps and cellulite. She actively encourages women to learn to love all of their ‘squishy bits’ and how normal the imperfect body is. She openly talks about the misery that starving her body to be a size 6 brought her in the past and her All Woman Project works with schools running events and workshops for young girls. Another great role model for younger girls is the radio DJ Lilah Parson, who has a refreshing and healthy attitude towards her body and food. When asked recently if she was content with her body, she answered “Yes, I’m very content. I know what clothes work for my body and I’m happy and healthy. We don’t all have to look like Victoria’s Secret models. We put far too much pressure on ourselves” When she was asked what she liked about her body, she was easily able to list a few things. When she was asked to list what she didn’t like, she just answered that she tries not to be negative about her body. How wonderful to hear a young woman talk confidently about her body and with absolutely no shame. This is how it should be. In fact, women like Charli and Lilah aren’t just role models for young women, they’re role models for all women.

5. Never mention if you think a celebrity or person has a good body. This can encourage a child or young woman to compare their body with the so-called ideal body shape and it also compounds the idea that a woman’s body shape or weight is imperative to their self worth.

Recently, a documentary film has been made about women’s body called Embrace (more information about this film can be found here). This is the word I have always used in association with becoming happy with one’s body. We should all embrace our bodies for what they are. Whatever their shape, size, colour, abilities or disabilities are.

For all of us to try and achieve the homogenised “ideal” body shape is utterly ridiculous, a waste of time and energy and downright dangerous.

I know too many women that have suffered from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. I guarantee that if a woman hasn’t suffered from an eating disorder they will know more than one woman that has. And now, we are witnessing an increase in eating disorders in children, this madness, this attitude towards are own bodies HAS to stop.

Love your body, it’s the only one you’ll ever get. Love your bumps, your lumps, its imperfections. Embrace your body, not just for yourself, but for our all the little girls who will grow up to be beautiful women, whatever their shape.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Charli Howard:

“This can be the year that you choose to kick old habits; this can be the year you embrace your true shape, stop giving a shit about dieting and calories and choose to be happy. Eat what you want, love your squishy bits, step away from the scales (and bad boys) and don’t let anyone or anything make you feel you’re less than perfect. I’m off to cook a hearty roast dinner with my family because I don’t give a fuck about my weight anymore and neither should you bad bitches”.


Image courtesy of the All Woman Project




Top 10 British Sitcoms

Despite its many faults (and I ain’t just talking about the rain), Britain has many strengths and I’ve always considered our humour to be its best (along with fish ‘n’ chips, how charitable we are, our Paralympics team and David Attenborough. Obvs). We are hilarious and nobody finds us as funny as we find ourselves. It’s not often us Brits can have a conversation without subtly (or even obviously) throwing a bit of humour in. In fact, if a conversation has continued for more than 5 minutes without anything humorous having been uttered then we start to break out in a cold sweat and somebody had better mutter something self-deprecating or joke about tits and willies before all hell breaks loose and British society implodes (this isn’t an exaggeration. Trust me).

The British Sitcom is an almost poetic portrayal of our unique humour. Yes, we love our irony and how can I put this- ‘piss-taking’, but our humour is often steeped in humanity and good old fashioned silliness. So, here is my list of my all time favourite British sitcoms. I’ve provided clips or a compilation of clips for each entry too for you to enjoy. Our favourite sitcoms are a very personal thing, so much so, I fully expect people to exclaim that they can’t believe I haven’t included this sitcom or that sitcom in my list or that I put a certain sitcom above another one, but it’s MY list and you know, you’ll just have to find a way of coping (Seriously though I would love to hear which are your favourites too). Deciding which of the plethora of excellent British sitcoms make my top ten has not been easy and I could have easily have done a top twenty.

Please be assured there is NO Mrs Brown’s Boys in this top 10.

(It is my no.11 though)*

10. Toast of London (2012-?)

There was an article written about Toast of London, entitled ‘The Funniest Sitcom That Nobody is Watching” and it is indeed strangely an undiscovered gem, so many have yet to unearth. If you want a wonderfully silly British sitcom, then here is a perfect example of one. Steven Toast is an old-fashioned, failing, middle-aged actor. It features an abundance of guest stars (John Hamm, Michael Ball, an alcoholic Peter Davison and not to mention a dodgy John Nettles) and is my most recent sitcom to feature on this list. So, if you haven’t watched it, I thoroughly recommend you correct this unfortunate error. The highlight of this show is when Toast’s world clashes with the world of the hipsters that he does his voice recordings with, so I’ve selected a clip which illustrates this nicely, with the great Clem Fandango for you.

9. The Young Ones (1982-1984)

My Mum wouldn’t let me watch The Young Ones when it was first on TV (I guess I was only 6-8 years old, but I do remember begging her to no avail once). However, she did my brother and I the Comic Relief single that they did with Cliff Richard (which is, incidentally, the best Comic Relief single to date). At 15, when I became obsessed with Bottom (the TV show starring Rik Mayall & Adrian Edmondson, not people’s posteriors) and maybe in some kind of defiance, I bought and absolutely loved the Young Ones double VHS. I loved its maniacal style and post-punk insanity that rarely made much sense. It all ended perfectly with them driving themselves off of a “Cliff”. Please excuse my Rik Mayall (I loved him) indulgence with the following clip.

8. The Royale Family (1998-2012)

Here is a sitcom that one minute will have you crying with laughter and then sobbing your heart out the next. We all remember the beautiful scene where Barbara brushes her ailing Mum’s Hair or the scene when Jim sits on the bathroom floor with Denise mid-labour, don’t we? Caroline Aherne was an extraordinary talent. She seemed to know how to make us all both laugh and cry in equal measure. The key to the Royale Family is its ordinariness and its familial charm. Here’s a clip of the perfect marital argument over the TV remote control.

7. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)

Basil Fawlty was the perfect role for John Cleese. Nobody could’ve played the permanently disgruntled hotel manager on the brink of a breakdown as well as him. Not to mention his perfect physical comedy skills. His on-screen partnership with Prunella Scales as his wife, Sybil was outstanding. The pair seemed so utterly wrong for each other, it was a wonder what they saw in each other in the first place. This wonderfully farcical (and I usually hate farces) sitcom, always seemed very theatrical to me and it is of no surprise that it has now been turned into a stage show. Please enjoy this clip of Basil reaching the end of his tether yet again and Sybil not caring (yet again). A fine example of why Sybil Fawlty will always be my hero.

6. Blackadder (1982-1989)

This historical sitcom written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, was hugely popular and featured a magnificent cast of some of our best comedy actors. An observation of Blackadder that I’ve only noticed in reason years, is how bloody sexy Blackadder was. Who could resist the ruff-clad Blackadder or the would-be-deserter Captain Blackadder? Not I now, clearly. We all remember the devastatingly poignant final moments of the final episode. They’re etched in my mind from when I first watched it with my family at 13 years old. I can still hear the whistles and Baldrick’s last claim that he has a cunning plan. I also remember Blackadder warning Hugh Laurie not to forget his stick just before they go over the top (“No, I wouldn’t want to face a machine gun without my stick” he replied). However, I wanted to show you a pure comedy clip from Blackadder and I’m sorry (completely not sorry), but my love for Rik Mayal prevails, so here’s another clip with him in for you.

5. Father Ted (1995-1998)

“Oh, but it’s an Irish sitcom”, I hear you cry. Well, I do see your point as it stars an Irish cast, was written by two Irish writers and was filmed in Ireland, BUT it is technically a British sitcom as it was made by a British television company for a British TV channel, so it’s in my top 10, so there. The genius of this show lies in Dermot Morgan playing the straight man in his role of Father Ted Crilly. The frustrations endured by his character only highlight the daftness of all the characters that surround him; the childlike and dim (but strangely sexy) Father Dougal, the perpetually inebriated Father Jack (DRINK) and the slightly unhinged Mrs Doyle (ah g’wan Father).

4. Black Books (2000-2004)

So bookshop owner, Bernard Black spends his days drinking wine, reading books and trying to ignore people. In conclusion, he’s essentially living the life I want to live. He also has a pet Manny running around doing chores for him, which is also a life goal of mine. C’mon, we could all do with a pet Manny in our lives. Black Books is set in Bloomsbury, London and considering Black’s lack of desire for customers it is a wonder how it ever managed to stay in business. Black Books won the BAFTA for best sitcom twice and features cameos from lots of the UK’s brightest sitcom stars of the time (Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Nick Frost, Peter Serafinowicz, Omid Djalili, Lucy Davis, Olivia Coleman and so on). Oh and did anyone else fancy Bernard Black? Just me? And what is it with me and male sitcom actors?

3. The Office (2001-2003)

What an absolute joy watching copious amounts of funny clips from the Office was. Choosing just one one was very difficult, but an excellent reminder of how funny it was. Whatever your feelings are of Ricky Gervais, I still stand by the opinion that he and Stephen Merchant were comedy writing geniuses. I’m a fan of both the British and American versions of this sitcom, but the British version is less sentimental and essentially more difficult to watch. The cringe-factor is far higher and I think it is better for it. David Brent is also a less likeable character than Michael Scott. Here illustrates the genius of Gervais and Merchant, they even manage to make an unlikeable character such as Brent likeable (it’s ok I do realise how much I’ve contradicted myself here, but bear with). You feel so much affection for this absolute dickhead. He’s literally my favourite dickhead. I would’ve even liked him as a boss. Just think of the fun you’d have had with your colleagues, mocking him behind his back. Of course I’m not one to condone such behaviour. Ahem. So here’s Brent being an absolute twat. As per. Bless him.

2. I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002)

Talking about loveable twats, here’s another one for you. Oh Alan with your monotone voice, late night radio show, v-neck jumpers, dated hair do, questionable TV show ideas, who’s best friend is a roadside hotel barman and with your dire social skills- I love you. Partridge’s life is so empty yet full of unfortunate events and badly handled circumstances. Much like The Office, it makes you cringe at the way Partridge tries to endure life. We need characters like Partridge to remind ourselves that we’re not doing so badly ourselves and that at the very least we would have dealt with life’s blows better than Alan would have. I thank you for this Alan. At least I’m not you. At least I don’t have “Cook Pass Babtridge” written in spray paint on the side of my car.

1.Spaced (1999-2001)

So here it is, my all time favourite British sitcom. Much like others on my list (Fawlty Towers, The Office, The Young Ones and I’m Alan Partridge), Spaced only ran for two seasons. Two faultless seasons. Spaced was written about two people and their friends in their twenties. It was on TV at a time when myself and my friends were also in our twenties. It very much felt like Simon Pegg & Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes) had watched my friends and I, and decided to write a sitcom about us. All of the characters in this sitcom are so strong, but my favourite will always be Marsha- my spirit animal. The cinematic style, heavy cultural referencing and hilarious script cemented its popularity and left diehard fans wanting more after it ended after two seasons. I still miss it.


The one that almost made it: The Day Today (1994)

A spoof of British news broadcasting, I think now more than ever, we need the return of the Day Today. Please Chris Morris. Please. If you loved this programme, here’s a rather obvious pick, but perpetually brilliant scene with Steve Coogan.

*It’s bloody not!