Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening psychological disorders characterized by a preoccupation with food, weight and body image. Although signs of eating disorders often appear during adolescence, children as young as 10 years old may be affected.
According the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders (2008), eating disorders begin before the age of 20 in 86 percent of cases. Although these conditions are more common in women, men may also exhibit signs of eating disorders.
Understanding Eating Disorders
Although most of the signs of eating disorders revolve around food, teens with eating disorders are actually dealing with powerful negative emotions and thoughts about themselves. Eating disorders may be triggered by:
- Anxiety disorders
- Low self-esteem and poor body image
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic events (such as sexual abuse).
Although many people think that eating disorders are simply an extreme form of vanity, this isn’t the case. With eating disorder education, you’ll learn that these conditions deal with a person’s feelings about herself and that they don’t develop by choice–they are treatable illnesses.
If your child has an eating disorder, learn all you can about the condition in order to understand what your child is experiencing. Some hospitals and clinics offer eating disorder education classes for both parents and children affected by these conditions.
Parents and Children: Talking to Your Child
If you recognize signs of eating disorders in your child, lovingly voice your concerns. Provide specific examples of behaviors that concern you and explain that you’d like her to talk to a doctor. Let your child know that you’re willing to listen whenever she wants to talk.
Express your care and concern rather than using accusatory statements about her behavior (for example, “You’re ruining your life!”). These statements will only not only put her on the defensive; they can trigger additional feelings of guilt and shame.
Don’t be surprised if your child denies having a problem. Individuals with eating disorders are often unwilling to admit they need help. If your attempts are unsuccessful, speak with a doctor or a mental health professional about your concerns.
Parents and Children: Making Decisions
Both parents and children need to make difficult choices, As a parent, however, you must balance your child’s need for freedom with your concern for her wellbeing. You have to be both supportive and forceful, sometimes making your child do things she doesn’t want to do, like go to the doctor. People with eating disorders can get better with the proper medical treatment. The sooner the treatment begins, the better the prognosis for a full recovery.
Academy for Eating Disorders. (n.d.) Risk factors of eating disorders. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.aedweb.org/Risk_Factors.htm
Gusella, J. (2000). What is helping? Youth and recovery. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/documents/WhatisHelpingYouthandRecovery.pdf
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders. (2008). About eating disorders. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/
National Eating Disorders Association. (2004). Factors that may contribute to eating disorders. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/uploads/file/information-resources/Factors%20that%20may%20Contribute%20to%20Eating%20Disorders.pdf
Nemours Foundation. (n.d.) Eating disorders. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit/nutrition/eating_disorders.html#a_Warning Signs
Segal, J. Smith, M. & Barston, S. (n.d.) Helping someone with an eating disorder. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_treatment.htm#treatments