Category Archives: Mental health

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

The very word ‘eating disorder’ is enough to strike fear in most parents.  Latest estimates suggest that 1.25 million people have an eating disorder and that adolescence is the most likely time for this to develop.   

What is an eating disorder?

At the heart of all eating disorders is an unhealthy attitude to food.  The most common eating disorders are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa – characterised by not eating enough and often excessive exercising
  2. Bulimia Nervosa – overeating followed by vomiting and laxatives in order not to gain weight
  3. Binge Eating Disorder – compulsive overeating that feels out of control

There are varying degrees of gravity for all of these and it is not always easy to determine when your child ‘tips over’ from healthy eating to problem eating, and then into a full- blown eating disorder.  The bottom line is, if you feel that food is dominating your child’s life, your best action is to seek treatment, as early intervention gives the best chance of recovery.

Why does someone get an eating disorder?

There is no one over-riding cause to why someone develops an eating disorder; there is a combination of influences such as genetics, family experiences and culture.  Parents don’t give their children an eating disorder, but there is much they can do to help reduce the chances of their children developing one.  

What can parents do? 

Parents’ main role is to create a positive home environment by:

  • Setting the right goals – ensure that the aspirations that you have for your child are not based on appearance and that you do not give the impression that you will love them more if ‘only they ate less’.  This includes paying more attention to what they say and do rather than what they look like.
  • Speaking your mind – we are all exposed to some pretty toxic ideas about body image.  This particularly applies to social media which bombards us with images that can distort our children’s attitude to body size.  We need to educate our children that there is no such thing as the perfect body and that prejudice against people who are overweight is wrong.  Too much time spent trying to achieve unattainable beauty is only going to lead to feelings of failure and is limiting your child’s development in more meaningful areas.  Recent research showed that an intervention for women with eating disorders, that encouraged them to criticise negative media images that associated appearance with self-worth, significantly reduced their negative feelings about themselves. 
  • Being comfortable with your own body shape – the more complete you are as parents with your own body, irrespective of size – the less likely you are to imply that having a less than ideal body shape is something to feel ashamed about.
  • Talking about feelings – eating disorders are a way of coping with difficult feelings, so encourage children to understand and express their emotions rather than placate them with food.  This will give you an opportunity to teach them strategies to use when they are feeling frustrated, angry or sad.  For example, taking a deep breath, talking the issue through with an adult, or even asking for a hug.
  • Being a good role model – you are their biggest influence.  If you pick at your food, criticise your own body and are constantly on a diet, your children will copy these unhelpful behaviours.
  • Not putting them on a diet – dieting rarely works and often affects self-esteem.  Most eating disorders start with a diet.  There can also be loads of other health implications such as stunted growth, osteoporosis and delayed puberty. 
  • Keeping children a healthy weight – overweight teenagers have a much higher risk of developing an eating disorder, but often its symptoms go unnoticed because they are masked by being overweight. 
  • Exercising for the right reasons – exercise is an important part of good health, but if you are spending hours in the gym each day trying to get the ‘perfect’ body then this will give children the wrong messages.
  • Boosting their self-esteem – this is probably the most important factor that protects children from developing an eating disorder.  One of the best ways to do this is by offering children choices, particularly as eating disorders often develop as a way of trying to take control of their lives.  Try offering them an array of healthy foods and let them serve themselves.  Even better get them involved in cooking healthy food.

Not only will these behaviours help to reduce the chances of your children developing an eating disorder but they are also great ways for maintaining a healthy attitude to weight and food for all the family.

Article by Tracey Bennett, specialist in Obesity & Weight Management

Teenage happiness

Dear Rachel

“I’m struggling with depression and feeling happy in my day to day life.  Please give me some helpful hints on how to create a more happy life for myself.”

For my daily work supporting parents in corporates, I have spent a lot of time reading up on the psychology of happiness be that for adults or teens.

Sadly there appears to be an ‘unhappiness’ epidemic going on and depression rates are ten times higher than they were in 1960.  The age threshold of unhappiness is also getting lower. Fifty years ago the average age for the onset of depression was 29.5 years old.  Today it is almost half at 14 years old.

The first thing teens should do is try to define and understand what ‘happiness’ means to them, as it is incredibly personal. With the pressures of school work and social expectations (worrying about what others think of you and FOMO) teens often have the mistaken belief that if you work really hard, get good grades, are in the right social crowd, have the material possessions you desire, only then will you be happy.  In fact spending your life trying to achieve in all areas, often results in us feeling stressed and sad.

It actually works the other way round.  We become more successful in all areas of life when we are happier and more positive, as opposed to thinking we will be happy once we are successful.

Some top tips to nurture happiness.

  1. I have read countless studies which conclude that social interaction is the best prescription for happiness. One of the longest running psychological studies of all times is the ‘Harvard Men Study’ following Harvard students from the late 1930s through to the present day. 70 years of evidence concluded that our relationships with people matter more than anything else in the world. In a ‘Very Happy People’ study again the one characteristic amongst the happiest 10% was the strength of their social relationships.
  2. The thing to really stress here is that social interaction means being present, making eye contact and interpreting each other’s non-verbal cues.  This is entirely different to having 1000+ followers on Instagram, 185 likes for one post or keeping up 40 daily streaks on Snapchat.  The trouble is that time with family and friends may be the first thing to go. When you are unhappy, you are far more likely to withdraw and not feel like making an effort socially.  The more social support you have, the happier you will feel.
  3. Practice gratitude. Every day write in a diary or share with your family, 3 things you are grateful for.  It could be as simple as the sun was shining, there was no fish for lunch at school or you finally grasped a hard concept in maths. The more gratitude you feel and verbalise, the more you will get into the habit of noticing what there is to be grateful for and the happier you will feel.
  4. Be aware that you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. You can’t blame others for “making” you unhappy or rely on other people or things to make you happy.  Whilst you can’t obviously control everything that happens to you, you can choose what you think and feel about the things that happen.  It is your deep thoughts that drive your feelings and in turn your actions.  If a person is pessimistic when bad things happen, they feel bad and permanently negative. Optimists see negative events as only temporary and due to outside factors.
  5. How we feel is totally dependent on our mindset. Each person’s reality is based on their perception and understanding of the world. Practice positivity.
  6. Pursue things that you really enjoy, that you are good at and are meaningful to give your life purpose.  Everyone whatever age they are needs to try and find a strength or something they are passionate about and can feel truly engaged and lose track of time.  That may be a sport, playing an instrument, volunteering, reading, cooking, doing magic tricks. Anything that gives you real pleasure.
  7. Even at difficult times with lots going on, schedule something in your diary that you can really look forward to.
  8. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and helps to improve your mood.
  9. Meditation is very popular at the moment and to be honest not something I have much experience of but I know it works for others and helps to develop the pre -frontal cortex which is the part of the brain most responsible for happiness.
  10. I love this concept of a ‘Healthy mind platter’ from Dr Dan Siegel.

Balance in all these areas is key for a healthy mind.

Theresa May’s Mental Health Plan for the Workplace

Most Professionals Missed This Important Section of Theresa May’s Mental Health Plan.

In her ‘Shared Society’ speech, Theresa May unveiled her plan to tackle the mental health crisis plaguing the United Kingdom.  Much of the focus was on children and adolescents and the measures we need to take to ensure their emotional stability. This is a charge that we as a society take seriously and with reverence for the needs of our society’s most vulnerable.

However, in the middle of this plan, there was a paragraph overlooked by the mainstream media.  Yet it is equally vital for the health and wellbeing of our nation.

“Second, I want us to do more to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. So I have asked Lord Stevenson, who has campaigned on these issues for many years, and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, to work with leading employer and mental health groups to create a new partnership with industry, and make prevention and breaking the stigma top priorities for employers. Because mental wellbeing doesn’t just improve the health of employees, it improves their motivation, reduces their absence and drives better productivity too.”

This is a powerful statement about the need for employers to attend to their employees mental wellbeing.  Most of a full time employees waking hours are spent in the workplace. It is the source of many things including: income, pride, self-worth, social groups etc.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees health, safety and wellbeing.  What steps can they take to make sure the mental health of their employees is being met?

Network Groups

Most corporate environments have network groups for various populations in their workforce. They can be for parents/carers, women, LGBTQ, aging populations and a myriad of other labels that apply to their workforce. These groups provide a space that allows them to have a voice, embrace diversity and find kinship with other employees who have similar life experiences.

Expert Speakers

Bringing in experts to speak on topics that apply to the lives and needs of employees facilitates the learning needed for optimal mental health. This allows attendees to find answers to questions that cause stress and worry. Employees need for that ever elusive work/life balance is also acknowledged. The experts will give them the skills they need to get closer to finding that

Resource Lists and Access

It may seem a simple thing  but having a list of available resources can prove vital in time of crisis.  In a calm and rational state, you can easily do a web search and find therapists and mental health workers that can fit the needs of any person.  However, when a person is in a state of heightened anxiety, even this task can prove overwhelming. Human Resources need to have available resources to point employees in the right direction. Obtuse statements like “We are here to help” are superficial.  Specific help is beneficial.

Time

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”  While we know other resources and strategies need to be put in place, having the time to heal from a crisis is critical.  This can manifest in many ways.  It can be time off  from work, slow return plans, remote working, facilitating experts for one on one counselling.

Employees are more than a means to an end.  They are a valuable resource that needs to be nurtured and cared for.  More importantly, they are people that deserve respect and understanding.  Employers who take on this responsibility with open eyes and open arms will in return have a dedicated workforce that is loyal, efficient and appreciative.

How to Have a Healthy Mind

Healthy Mind Platter

Please see vlog below for an introduction to Dan Siegel’s concept of a ‘Healthy Mind Platter’


Time in

Enabling children to reflect on their inner world. Connect with their feelings, thoughts, beliefs and dreams by being truly present.  This could be for example, through mediation or yoga.  It keeps the brain cells healthy and provides more energy.

Sleep Time

Check the recommended sleep required for your child’s age to allow optimal brain growth, memory consolidation and reduction of stress.

Focus Time

This is time without distraction and may involve homework.  It is not multi-tasking but focusing on learning one thing.  Life-Lomb learning should be a target to keep the brain growing. 

Down Time 

Time to unwind or chill with no structure or plan and nothing to accomplish.  It gives the brain a chance to recharge it’s batteries and allow imagination to wander. 

Play Time

Young children tend to get quite a lot of this but it’s necessary for all ages. Laughter and fun allows the brain to grow.  The chosen activity should not be judged or evaluated with no rigid rules.  It allows children to think outside the box. 

Physical time

Increases the heart rate and enhances neuroplasticity.  Of course exercise also has a powerful effect on mood. 

Connecting time

This may be with people and nature. It is what helps to make our life happier and more meaningful. It does not include social media but face-to-face contact with friends and family and the world outside.