A big job that parents have to deal with, learn about, and work to prevent is eating disorders. In the United States as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are affected with an eating disorder. About 40% of eating disorder sufferers are between the ages of fifteen to twenty-one years old. Every decade since 1930, there has been a rise in anorexia. From 1988 to 1993 bulimia has tripled in women ages ten to thirty-nine. The mortality rate among women, who suffer from anorexia nervosa between the ages of fifteen to twenty four, is twelve times higher than the death rate of any other cause.
These are some scary statistics and everyday they are affecting young women and men. This article is to help educate about what eating disorders are, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, and most of all how prevent eating disorders. Children are very influential, they pick up on everything. They see and hear everything we do and say. Next time you are looking in the mirror saying “I’m so fat” remind yourself that those little eyes and ears are watching you and learning from you.
What is an eating disorder? According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “An eating disorder is a serious, but treatable illness with medical and psychiatric aspects. People with an eating disorder often become obsessed with food, body image, and weight. The disorders can become very serious, chronic, and sometimes even life threatening if not recognized and treated appropriately. Treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach with an experienced care team.”
Who is at risk for getting an eating disorder? In today’s society almost anyone is at risk now for developing an eating disorder. The previous stereotype that eating disorders only affect Caucasian, teenage girls who are perfectionist, people pleasers and from an upper class socioeconomic group, no longer holds true. Eating disorders are affecting children as young as 7 or 8 years old men and women well into their 30’s and 40’s. We are seeing a rise in eating disorders among men and young boys and eating disorders are affecting people in every socioeconomic and ethnic group.
What are the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder? Here are a few red flags that you child may be at risk for developing an eating disorder.
- Is your child avoiding certain food groups because they are “fattening”? If your child suddenly proclaims he or she is now a vegetarian this could be a red flag for an eating disorder. For many eating disorder sufferers, especially young children and teenagers, proclaiming vegetarianism suddenly makes it okay and acceptable by family and peers to avoid whole food groups such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy.
- When in a social situation and around food does your child act differently? Either by shrinking away and refusing to eat anything or by losing sense of control and overeating?
- Do you hear your young one constantly talking about weight loss, body size, and food? Always seeking reassurance from others about looks and referring to self as fat, gross, or ugly? Overestimating body size? Striving to create a “perfect” image? These are not healthy behaviors for anyone, especially young children and teens.
- Have you seen a sudden change in weight? Either dramatic weight loss or big fluctuations in weight over a short period of time?
If you notice some of these signs and symptoms with a loved one, seek out support now. Getting the right help and support can prevent serious issues from developing later on.
Can I really work at preventing eating disorders? Yes. Listed below are a few tips of simple things that can help build the confidence of your child and prevent eating disorders.
- Change dinner table talk. For many young people, struggling with an eating disorders can stem from parents own obsession with dieting, weight loss, calorie control, exercise, and looks. Instead of talking about the latest diet or weight loss plan that you may be following, use your time together to discuss other topics. Ask your child questions about school and social events, take up a hobby together that does not focus on looks.
- Seek professional support. If your child wants to lose weight or adapt a specific lifestyle such as being a vegetarian make sure he or she is doing it for the right reasons. Schedule an appointment with a professional such as a registered dietitian who can help educate and ensure adequate nutrient intake.
- Avoid being the food police. If you know your child is trying to lose weight, avoid commenting on everything he or she puts on the plate or into their mouth. Constantly watching and monitoring food intake only sets the tone for resentment, overeating or under eating, shame, and guilt; all which can lead to a serious eating disorder.
- Encourage activities that promote a positive body image. Involve your child in activities that make him or her feel good. If your child is in an environment where he or she is constantly being ridiculed or made fun of by a coach or team mates, change the environment. Find positive outlets for your child to thrive in.
- Limit exposure to trendy TV shows and magazines. These media sources are constantly bombarding young minds with how they are supposed to look. Remind your child that these “famous” people have been airbrushed and touched up with every computer program available to give the “perfect” look.
Remember, from a very early age children pick up from what is going on with parents. If you are constantly on a diet, always talking about either your own body size or other people’s body size, your child is hearing you. The first step you can take in preventing an eating disorder is to treat yourself and others with love and respect and not always focus on the “image.” If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, seek out professional support. Using a multi-facet approach by working with a doctor, therapist and registered dietitian can help treat and overcome this scary disease.