||How do I stay a healthy and normal weight?
Most of us, at some time in our lives, feel
unhappy about the way we look and try to change it. Being smaller,
shorter, or less well-developed than friends or brothers and
sisters can make us feel anxious and lacking in confidence. So can
being teased about size and weight. Many of us have an idea of the
size and shape we would like to be.
Our ideas about what looks good are strongly
influenced by fashion and friends. You might compare yourself with
the pictures in magazines. The models in these magazines are often
unhealthily thin. You may then worry that you are fat, even if your
weight is normal for your age and height.
There are a variety of sizes and shapes that
are within the normal, healthy range. If you’re interested, there
are tables showing normal height and weight. Ask your school
nurse, GP or library. Your weight, like your height and looks,
depends a lot on your build, your genes and your diet.
Our bodies need a healthy diet which should include all the
things you need to develop normally – proteins, carbohydrates,
fats, minerals and vitamins. Cutting out things you might see as
fattening, such as carbohydrates or fats, can stop your body from
There are some simple rules that can help you
to stay a healthy weight. They sound quite easy, but might be more
difficult to put into practice. You can ask your family and friends
to help you to stick to these rules – and it might even help them
to be a bit more healthy!
- Eat regular meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Include
carbohydrate foods such as bread, potatoes, rice or pasta with
- Try to eat at the same times each day. Long gaps between meals
can make you so hungry that you eventually eat far more than you
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid sugary or high-fat foods and junk foods. If you have a
lunch of crisps, chocolate and a soft drink, it doesn’t feel as if
you’re eating much, but it will pile on the pounds. A sandwich with
fruit and milk or juice will fill you up, but you are much less
likely to put on weight – and it’s better for your skin.
- Take regular exercise. Cycling, walking or swimming are all
good ways of staying fit without going over the top.
- Try not to pay too much attention to other people who skip
meals or talk about their weight.
If you follow these suggestions, you will find
it easier to control your weight, and you won’t find yourself
wanting sweet foods all the time.
Miracle cures do they work?
What causes problems with
There seems to be a new one of these almost
every week. Sadly, they often do more harm than good.
- Crash diets don’t help you to keep your weight down. In fact,
they might make you put on weight after a while. At worst, they can
- Exercise helps, but it’s got to be regular and increased only
gradually. Too much exercise, or too much too soon, can damage your
- Laxatives might help you feel less guilty and bloated.
Unfortunately, they don’t reduce weight and can upset your body
- ‘Slimming pills’ can’t make you thinner. They might make you
feel a bit less hungry, but unfortunately, they can also harm your
Problems or pressures at school, with friends, or at home, are
common. Your appetite can be affected by stress, pressure, worry or
Some people turn to food for comfort. This can
lead to eating more than we need, and can make us put on
It’s easy to start worrying about getting fat
and we find ourselves eating even more to comfort ourselves. It
becomes a vicious circle. ‘Comfort foods’ often contain a lot of
fat or sugar – sweets, biscuits, chocolate, cakes and pastries. It
can be helpful to keep a diary of what you eat to make sure that
you don’t slip into this.
If you are unhappy or stressed, it can be easy
to focus on your weight and eating habits instead of the things
that are bothering you. If this goes on for long enough, you might
develop an eating disorder. The most common eating disorder is
becoming overweight (obesity). Other eating disorders are
less common. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia occur
most often among girls but can occur in boys.
Signs of an eating disorder
||How do I get help?
When you have an eating disorder you may
notice some signs.
If you suffer
- you may be exercising a lot more than usual to lose weight
- you feel afraid of putting on weight
- you don’t feel good about yourself and the way you look
- if you are female your periods may be irregular or may have
- you may have noticed changes in your physical health
- you will feel you are fat and will avoid eating, even though
you aren’t actually overweight
- you feel guilty when you eat
- you avoid food, lose a lot of weight and become extremely
Strangely, the thinner you get, the fatter you
feel! We don’t fully understand why this happens, but it makes the
eating disorder harder to overcome.
People with anorexia usually remain very
active - and say they are well - even though they become so
thin that they avoid undressing in front of others or wear loose
clothes to hide their size.
Anorexia nervosa can be dangerous if it gets
out of control. If you are a girl, and your periods have stopped,
this is a danger sign that means you need help right away (this
won’t happen if you are on the pill – so if you are, don’t wait for
If you don’t eat much, you can feel like you
are starving! You may then find yourself bingeing – eating lots of
food very quickly. Bingeing also happens in an eating disorder
known as bulimia.
If you have bulimia:
- you avoid foods like chocolates, cakes or biscuits, except when
- you feel fat, guilty and ashamed when you binge
- you try to get rid of the food by being sick or using
laxatives. It usually doesn’t make much difference to your weight,
but can damage your health and take up a lot of time and
Some people have both anorexic and bulimic
If you are worried about your weight or feel you might have an
eating disorder, you should get some help. Talk to:
- a member of the family
- a teacher or school nurse
- a counsellor or social worker
- your general practitioner.
- a B-EAT professional.
Your GP or practice nurse is the best
person for basic information and advice on diet and weight.
If you need more specialist help, they can
refer you to a specialist or suggest that you see a professional at
your local child and adolescent mental health
This is a team of specialists including child
and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers,
psychotherapists and specialist nurses.
They can help you to regain control of your
eating and your weight. Most young people do get better with
Janet's story, aged 18
||Anabelle's story, aged 16
"Two years ago it was my
‘best friend’ and now it’s my ‘enemy!' It no longer controls me or
my family and together we’ve pushed it away. I couldn’t have done
it alone. I wouldn’t have made it to uni if it wasn’t for my mum
and the school nurse who convinced me to see a professional
team….that took them 6 month! I was really pig-headed! I am talking
It started when I was 15 and my friends and I tried the ‘South
Beach Diet’…..most of them dropped out but I stuck with it…. I’ve
always been competitive.
At home there was so much pressure to get ‘A’ grades; at last
there was a different focus. I became obsessed with counting
calories and even kept a food diary. I lost more weight but still
felt huge and ‘ugly’ and wanted to lose more. My friends tried to
stop me and said they were worried but I didn’t care.
Slowly, I stopped going out with them, preferring to stay in and
do my sit-up regime. I thought about taking slimming pills but was
too scared so I bought laxatives instead. I felt so driven to lose
weight; the thought of putting on an ounce scared me to death. I
remember feeling weepy and very tired. At its worst, my fingers and
toes went blue!
Then, I agreed to see the child and family mental health service
where I met a team of professionals including a nurse,
psychiatrist, psychologist and family therapist.
They offered me individual therapy every week, to work through
things and have my physical health monitored too. The family
therapist was also able to offer us time as a family to work things
out. This felt like the most important bit for a long time,
especially for dad who found it hard to understand Anorexia. It was
tough and sometimes we felt like throwing the towel in but the team
supported us and we felt safe.
Even now some days are hard, but we got through it."
"I’m 16 now, but I think I started having a problem when I was
12. I became very worried about my weight and my body. I had put on
a bit of weight and was very upset when a boy in my class called me
fat. I remember feeling that even if I was doing very well in
school, things weren’t quite right and I wasn’t quite good
Gradually I ate less, lost masses of weight, but still believed
that I was fat. Sometimes I “felt” fat and this made me feel very
down. I stopped seeing most of my friends, and spent more and more
time thinking about food and my body.
I was always checking the shape of my stomach and bottom – at 20
or 30 times a day, looking at them in great detail. I felt very
cold at times, and found it harder and harder to find the energy to
do things as I was eating less and less.
I also weighed myself at least 5 times a day, and if my weight
had not gone down, I checked my stomach, and tried dieting even
more. Sometimes I binged on cakes and chocolate. I felt very guilty
afterwards and would usually be sick so that I could get rid of the
food and loose some weight. It felt as if I was going round and
round in circles, with no means of escape.
One of my teachers noticed that I wasn’t eating lunch and that I
had become thin (or at least she thought I had). She spoke to my
parents and I was taken to a clinic.
At first I didn’t want to know and I didn’t want to be helped.
However, I started a treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
(CBT). I learned to look at the links between my thoughts, feelings
and behaviour, but more importantly, I learned that I could eat
regularly - without putting on weight.
Gradually I put on some weight and worked on my checking and
weighing behaviour. It wasn’t easy to get better. I slowly started
to eat the foods that I used avoid. Sometimes I still find myself
thinking the way I used to, but now I know I that this is only one
way of thinking, one way of being, and most of the time to chose
not to do this.
I love going out clubbing with my friends now and I don’t argue
quite so much with my parents, well at least not about food
Beat provides helplines, online support and a network of UK-wide
self-help groups to help adults and young people in the UK beat
their eating disorders. Youth Helpline: 0845 634 7050.
friends - Mental health problems are common. This
website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be
Young Minds -
Website offers information to young people about mental health and
Minds: A Multimedia CD-ROM about Mental Health is
intended for 13–17 year olds; it talks about addiction, stress,
eating disorders, depression, and schizophrenia and
Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2002) Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry (4th edn). London:
Guidance (2004) Core Interventions in the treatment and management
of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and related eating
Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family
Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).
With grateful thanks to Dr Naomi Field and Dr Joanna
Farrington-Exley, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas
This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of
© March 2017 Royal College of
Due for review March 2020.