Emma Thompson: Parents of teens with eating disorders are stigmatised and shamed

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  • Emma Thompson
    Emma Thompson
    English actress and writer

The parents of children with eating disorders are “stigmatised and shamed” by society, Dame Emma Thompson has said.

The two-time Oscar winner, 62, called on the public to educate themselves about the impact of conditions such as anorexia, which her daughter Gaia Wise suffered from as a teenager.

Gaia, 21, has previous told how she began over-exercising and under-eating as a 16-year-old before being diagnosed with the condition and seeking treatment.

The pair spoke about their experiences during a YouTube cooking challenge to raise money for Beat, a charity supporting those affected by eating disorders in the UK.

Speaking after the task, Dame Emma said: “One of the most important things that Beat do is really address the family. It is those two things – the person as an individual who is ill and then the family and the effects upon the family.

“As parents, the first thing you are taught to do, the first thing that as a human animal you want to do, is feed your children.

“One of the most important things to recognise and really talk about is that parents are stigmatised and shamed when their teenagers have mental health disorders of this kind. And that is so unhelpful, not only to the families who are suffering untold misery and the person who has got the disease, who has got even more untold misery.”

Addressing her daughter, she added: “So one of the most important messages we can get out, and you as an activist can get out, and I as your supporting parent, is to say, ‘Do not ever make assumptions’. Learn about this because it is everywhere. It is very, very common.”

Gaia said: “I am about to turn 22 and I was about 16 when I was diagnosed, incredibly quickly actually, with anorexia. It was incredibly traumatic.

“I think it started as control of exercise. That was my first one. And then that came to restriction of food, and I would over-exercise and under-eat.

Dolittle Premiere – London
Dame Emma Thompson said people should never make assumptions about eating disorders (Lia Toby/PA)

“It became about control because when you over-exercise and under-eat you don’t feel anything. So when it comes down to it, that’s why it is such a powerful illness.

“Beat came into my life quite early in my illness because I was able to go on to their site and read. It was blog posts and it was people who were going through different stages of their recovery process.

“I think that was what was so important to me, that none of it was triggering, none of it was a challenging read. It was just that it is hard and nobody was making light of the (situation).”

Dame Emma and her daughter took part in the challenge for the YouTube channel SORTEDfood, which is hosted by four friends, only one of whom is a trained chef.

They were tasked with making Scotland-themed canapes using ingredients such as whisky, cauliflower and chicken liver pate.

Gaia, whose father Greg Wise was a contestant on this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing, also told how watching the SORTEDfood videos helped her during her illness.

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