ACP member gives advice to teenager in the Guardian Weekend

A young person wrote to Annalisa Barbieri at the Guardian Problem Solved Column saying, "I’m overweight for my age (I’m 13 and 60kg or 9.5 stone) and it’s consumed my life. I can’t go shopping with my friends in town because I can’t let them know my clothing size. If I sit down I’m always conscious that I look fat. If I take off my coat I feel people judging my waist. I dread it when my mother buys me clothes and I have to fake a smile to not upset her, all the while knowing the clothes will be bigger than hers. It takes up everything: my whole life revolves around how I look to other people."

She adds: "It’s driven me to the edge. Sometimes I get so consumed with self-loathing I can’t help but lash out at myself, by whatever means possible. It’s not something I’m proud of and I would never admit it to someone who knew me. There’s a cycle that goes round my head at any comment or thought that comes into my head. It goes round and round reminding me of all my failures, preying on my insecurities. The worst is that it all comes from me. I am truly my own worst enemy. But I can’t stop it."

ACP registered child and adolescent psychotherapist, Cathy Troupp, works at Great Ormond Street children’s hospital with children and teenagers who have eating disorders. She pointed out, "you may not necessarily be overweight." She and Barbieri both acknowledged two different issues. "...your weight and the way you feel about yourself."

They advised the young person to seek help "because it’s very unlikely this problem will go away by itself." 

“Go and see your GP,” says Troupp. “He or she can refer you to someone else, maybe a dietician if it’s needed, who can look at your weight and height and advise you accordingly, or maybe someone in CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] who can help you, too. Missing your breakfast and lunch is not good and you are in danger of getting an eating disorder. You need to take yourself seriously and talk to an adult. If not your mum, is there someone else you can talk to? Maybe the mum of one of your friends, or an auntie?”

The young person had tried to speak to someone at school but felt “shut down”. There was an understanding that finding the courage to talk to someone, when you feel like this, and then getting knocked back, must feel very hard. However, the importance of trying was stressed. Troupp was concerned about the young person being “on the edge”. “Sometimes, all the bad feelings are attributed to your weight, but sometimes that can be a smokescreen.”

Barbieri admits that, "going to the GP can seem like a really big step, but your GP is the gateway to all sorts of services, even if you may have to wait a while for those services. Ask at reception for a doctor who is really good at listening and take a friend or other family member if you want for moral support."

In the meantime, Troupp recommends some websites to look at. One is Young Minds (youngminds.org.uk), which is all about young people’s mental health. There is a section called Looking After Yourself, under which there are lots of smaller pieces. The other one is Beat (b-eat.co.uk), which is a website about eating disorders and the section About Eating Disorders has lots of stuff about the different types of eating disorders and about emotional eating. 

Troupp also wonders about thinking about “rebuilding a relationship with your mum? She may not realise you need her”. Parents can get terribly busy with things and sometimes need a really clear heads up to say: “I need you, please help me.” 

Read the full article here