I do not have any children yet. However, I have personally struggled with an eating disorder for more than 10 years. I thought because of my experiences, I could share the information I’ve learned during my recovery process.
If you think that your child might be struggling with an eating disorder, please continue reading. And even if you think your daughters (or sons) are OK, you might want to read on anyway, because our culture is merciless. Even if you live in a bubble, you might not be aware of how YOU are affecting your daughter’s self-image and self-worth.
Today it is estimated that three out of every four children will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders already kill many people each year. Click here for more stats. The most common cause of death is not starvation, but suicide. This is not something to take lightly.
Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Depression are often found together. Anxiety typically triggers eating disorder behaviors, and then the addiction to the eating disorder and poor body image/self-worth often causes depression.
This article is called “Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder: Advice for Parents, Family Members, and Friends”. I thought it was a great summary of what an eating disorder is, how it affects the person suffering, and practical ways to begin to help. It is a GREAT place to start if you are clueless!
Below is a quick list called “How can I tell if my child has an eating disorder?”
Look for these behaviors, signs and symptoms (adapted from NIMH):
Look for these behaviors, signs and symptoms (adapted from NIMH):
- Eating tiny portions or refusing to eat
- Intense fear of being fat
- Distorted body image
- Strenuous exercising (for more than an hour)
- Hoarding and hiding food
- Eating in secret
- Disappearing after eating—often to the bathroom
- Large changes in weight, both up and down
- Social withdrawal
- Hiding weight loss by wearing bulky clothes
- Little concern over extreme weight loss
- Stomach cramps
- Menstrual irregularities—missing periods
- Feeling cold all the time
- Sleep problems
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (from sticking finger down throat to cause vomiting)
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Fine hair on body
- Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
- Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Yellow skin
- Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
A lot of these listed items are signs that severe malnutrition has already taken place. Even if a few of these signs are present, there is danger of an eating disorder. Commonly, the ones you see first are: depression (crying a lot), isolation (spending tons of time alone in bedroom or bathroom), irritability and unaccounted anger, and, of course, irregular eating habits.
Because of the unfortunate lack of understanding of Eating Disorders, doctors often have very poor advice to give. I would not recommend going to a medical doctor unless the situation is very grim (danger of death by starvation) or unless the doctor is specifically an eating disorder specialist.
Once, I went to a doctor to try to get help and he told me my BMI was fine, so I had nothing to worry about. When, in reality, I was struggling so much with an eating disorder that I was suicidal. Sometimes, bad counseling is worse than no counseling at all.
Let me clarify:
Let me clarify:
I’d recommend going to a therapist, counselor, or a mental health professional 100 times before I would recommend going to see a medical doctor.
I’ve had bad experiences with counselors and doctors, and maybe not all E.D. patients feel this way.However, even so, I think parents and loved ones have the most power to help someone overcome an eating disorder anyway. The girl in this article agrees. Her words give great insight as to what it feels like to have an eating disorder. And in turn, can help people better understand how to help those suffering, by “walking in her shoes” for a bit.
Eating disorders are never about the food. E.D.’s are always about control. Eating disorders can be brought on by a number of things. There is not always just one “cause” but often times a series of events. Nonetheless, E.D.’s seem to start after certain events that proved out of one’s control. Big things like: divorce, death in the family, or abuse are common causes. Yet also other things like: school problems, break ups, moving, or even puberty can be the beginning of eating disorder tendencies. If things are changing too fast or if the change is too difficult, sometimes, the problems are dealt with by controlling the only thing that seems controllable – eating.
Terrible things can happen if an eating disorder is left untreated. This article is one parent’s story of having a daughter with an eating disorder (don't worry, it's a happy ending so far). The site also offers support and additional help for other parents of children with eating disorders.
One last thing, and this is going to be difficult.
If you want your child to recover from an eating disorder, never get an eating disorder, or have a positive body image overall, than YOU must root out all disordered eating tendencies in your own life. Click here to see if you have eating disorder tendencies.
This means:No diets
No good food/bad food talk
No scales in the house
No weight loss talk
No fat talk or body bashing
No gossiping or comparing to other people
(These are what I call the eating disorder triggers)
Diets teach kids that their bodies cannot be trusted – that their hunger cues cannot be trusted – and left to their own, they would make bad choices. Diets teach kids that you must exercise control over your body because the body is bad. Click here to read more.
There is no such thing as good food or bad food. Food is food. Kids need to learn to recognize how they feel after eating different things instead of what foods they should or shouldn’t eat. They will figure out that some foods make them feel sick or don’t fill them up when consumed too much. And they will figure out that sometimes they want something hearty and more filling. When you associate food with the words “good” or “bad”, or even “junk” or “treat”, you apply a moral standard to food. Food is neither good nor evil. It is not sinful to eat certain foods compared to others. Food is morally neutral. When you use language like good and bad food, it is confusing to children (and adults) and they start to look for justification in the food they eat.
Get rid of the bathroom scales. How much you weigh should not determine your worth. The number on the scale should not matter. So there is no need for scales. All they do is provide a perfectionist, and those with eating disorder tendencies, a means to become obsessed with a number. And it will never be small enough!
Health has nothing to do with weight loss. You can lose incredible amounts of weight and still be unhealthy. If health is the real goal, weight should have no place in the discussion. Sometimes, it’s a byproduct, but not always. It is not a measure of health, AND it is not a measure of success. Weight loss should not be applauded or made a big deal. Comments about weight (yours, mine, theirs, who ever!) only fuel eating disorder tendencies in young children.
Our bodies are a gift. They should be treated with respect. If you bash your appearance in front of your kids, you are setting them up for textbook eating disorders. They learn from your behaviors that they are not good enough the way they are or that they have to change in order to be loved.
Unfortunately, all this information above is counter-cultural. Our society will say the opposite of everything I’ve just said. Commercials, TV shows, internet, magazines…all of these things only feed into the eating disorder mentality. Limited interaction with these things is critical to recovery. If you find that you or anyone in your family is struggling to have a positive body image, try going on a media fast for a few weeks. You will be amazed at how much better you feel about yourself.
I know this is a lot of information. And if you are reading about eating disorders for the first time, you are probably overwhelmed. Just take one paragraph or section a day and try to get something out of it. You will learn so much from reading either this information or other information you’ve discovered. Remember patience – you won’t learn everything you need to in just one day. It is a journey. But it is worth it.
And most of all, please don’t give up! We need you to help us because we can’t help ourselves.