Eating Disorders - Getting Help For Your Young Person

Eating Disorders - Getting Help For Your Young Person

If you think your child or young person has an eating disorder, visit your family doctor straight away. Ask for a referral to an eating disorder specialist service. Find out more about services for young people with eating disorders, and support for parents and whānau.


Key points about getting help for a young person with an eating disorder

  • if you're concerned your young person may have an eating disorder, visit your family doctor straight away
  • ask your family doctor for a referral to an eating disorder specialist service
  • family and whānau involvement is important in helping your young person get better
  • there is support available for parents, carers and whānau

Concerned your child might have an eating disorder? Check out the KidsHealth page on concerns about your child's eating.

Get help for your child straight away

If you think your young person has an eating disorder, visit your family doctor straight away. Ask for a referral to an eating disorder specialist service.

Getting help early is the best way to get your young person better quicker. It is never too early to be concerned.

What to do in an emergency 

If your child or young person is experiencing a mental health emergency, make an urgent same-day appointment with your family doctor or contact your local crisis team.  

Call 111 (in New Zealand) if you, your child or someone else is in an unsafe or life-threatening situation right now. You can also go to your local emergency department. 

Treatments and services

Your family doctor will refer your child to a service that can provide tailored treatment. Treatment is provided by health professionals and specialists and can be public or private.

If your young person is unwell, they may need to stay in the hospital as an inpatient until they are stable. But most treatment for eating disorders is outpatient treatment. This may involve a visit to the clinic or hospital once or twice a week for around an hour each visit. Most young people with eating disorders will need psychological and medical treatment. 

Psychological treatment

Family based treatment

Family based treatment (FBT) can help a young person with anorexia nervosa. In FBT, whānau work together to make sure their young person is eating well. The aim is that the young person will regain their health and return to a healthy weight.

With FBT, family and whānau are supported by a trained therapist and specialist team. Your young person will also be seen by doctors and nurses to make sure the treatment is working. FBT is usually an outpatient treatment.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Some people with bulimia nervosa have success with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment. CBT involves the young person identifying and challenging their thoughts about food and body image, related to their condition. They use strategies to change their bingeing and purging behaviour. They will learn these skills with their therapist.

Medical treatment

When young people don’t eat enough food, they can end up with medical problems. These can include problems with their heart rate, blood pressure, bone density, puberty and growth. Anyone with an eating disorder will need to have regular appointments with a health professional to monitor their physical health.

If a child with an eating disorder is unwell, they will need to stay in hospital. Health professionals will monitor them until they are safe and well enough to go home.

Find out more about eating disorder services in Aotearoa New Zealand on the Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand (EDANZ) website.

Watch this video from Eva Musby on how parents can help their child eat with trust, not logic.

How can I help my child?

Parents and whānau can really help their young person get better when they are actively involved in their care.

There are many things a parent can do to help, including being involved in family-based treatment.

Some things whānau can do include:

  • taking your child or young person to see the family doctor and asking for a referral to a specialist service
  • providing a safe environment for your young person to recover at home
  • providing your young person with 3 meals and 3 snacks a day
  • sitting down with them each day to eat their meals and snacks
  • insisting they get the treatment they need
  • being actively involved in making sure they are getting better

Check out the F.E.A.S.T website for more ways whānau can help.

Watch this video about a family's journey with an eating disorder, including what they learnt and how their daughter recovered (Werry Centre).

Drive Series - Eating Disorders from Dion Howard on Vimeo.

Support for parents


The Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand (EDANZ) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting people caring for a person with an eating disorder.  EDANZ holds monthly virtual carer support group meetings for parents, partners or carers of loved ones with eating disorders.

Find out more about EDANZ support group meetings.


F.E.A.S.T stands for Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment for Eating Disorders.

F.E.A.S.T 30 Days

F.E.A.S.T 30 Days is a free programme designed to educate and empower parents and caregivers of people with eating disorders. Participants receive one lesson a day for 30 days. Each lesson is focused on a different topic related to eating disorders and caregiving.

Check out the F.E.A.S.T 30 Days programme.

F.E.A.S.T Family Guide Series

F.E.A.S.T also has a range of small booklets in its F.E.A.S.T Family Guide Series. The booklets are for whānau who are facing an eating disorder diagnosis in the household. Booklets are available in English, Chinese, German and Spanish.

Find out more about the F.E.A.S.T Family Guide Series

See more KidsHealth content on emotional and mental wellbeing

See the KidsHealth's section on emotional and mental wellbeing

Screenshot of KidsHealth website emotional and mental wellbeing section

This page last reviewed 19 May 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it