My Child May Have an Eating Disorder
That feeling in the pit of your stomach is not going away. You’ve watched. You’ve been paying attention. You’ve done your research. Your child is starting to show the signs of having an eating disorder. Along with the emotional and behavioral signs like preoccupation with food, distorted body image, acting withdrawn and isolated, the physical signs are starting to become apparent. Now what? How do you approach your child without furthering any damage? What’s the best way to tackle the issue head on without them completely closing down? When is the time that you actually step in? Where do you even start? It’s a scary thought. We’re right here with you to help you get the resources you and your family need to tackle this issue head on.
Eating disorders unfortunately are incredibly common in America: as many as 1 or 2 out of every 100 students will struggle with one. For parents, that means you need to be very diligent about keeping an eye out to watch for the signs and take action when needed. It’s also important to note that eating disorders are increasingly becoming more popular with boys. In fact, 40% of those with binge-eating disorders are male. The most common eating disorders are anorexia (restrictive eating) and bulimia (purging), however, there are many different types of food-related disorders that are gradually becoming apparent in children and adolescents.
Eating Disorder Signs:
Emotional and Behavioral:
- Fear of gaining weight
- Loss of self-esteem or low self-worth
- Wearing big, baggy clothing
- Fear of eating in front of others, but also obsessing over food and perhaps cooking and preparing it for others
- Sudden new food rituals
- Withdrawing from normal social activities that they used to enjoy
- Excessive exercising
- Noticeable weight loss and/or weight gain
- Hair loss, thinning, dry or brittle hair
- Dizziness, fainting, weakness, unusual sleeping patterns
- Cramping and stomach pain
- Dental problems – erosion, cavities, sensitives
When to Take Action:
How long do you keep a close eye on your child vs. waiting to see if it’s just a phase? Dr. Kathleen Hart, a licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders recommends not wasting any time. “If you're observing more serious disordered eating patterns of skipping meals, under-eating, removing major food groups from their diet (even for ideological reasons), developing rigid food rules and excessive preferences or exercising more than usual, then I recommend that you reach out to a healthcare provider who specializes in eating disorders and request a consultation,” she says. “I never recommend a wait and see approach.”
In fact, it can be extremely dangerous to observe your child for too long. “When eating disorder symptoms are ignored, minimized or left untreated, these symptoms can worsen over time. They can cause major medical complications including malnutrition, bone loss and serious heart problems,” says Dr. Kathleen Hart. “Early detection of eating disorders allows you to swiftly move into action and seek treatment if needed.”
How to Take Action:
You may have expressed your concern in the past, but now is the time to make sure you are actually being heard. Sit down with your child and express your concerns. Make sure you have some quiet time where perhaps it’s just you and your spouse alone with your child. Make sure to come at the topic from a supportive, loving mindset rather then acting critical, blaming anyone or lecturing at all. Talk about specific behaviors that you’ve noticed, list the reasons WHY you are concerned and overall express that you are there to open up the conversation and get them the help that they need.
Be prepared for your child to get angry, defensive or resist. It’s important that you remain calm, respectful and focused at the task at hand. Explain that you’ll be bringing them to the doctor to understand whether or not treatment is needed. Be patient and supportive, but firm that the next step must be taken to bring in a professional to help through this trying time. This may be a very difficult conversation to have, but it needs to be done directly with love and support.
In conjunction with the conversation above, Number One: Contact your Pediatrician right away. Or, reach out to a trusted healthcare professional that specializes in eating disorders. They will likely either provide a recommendation or provide a direct consult to discuss next steps.
Treatment typically includes some form of therapy and counseling along with medical and nutrition care, provided by a multidisciplinary team working in conjunction together. Depending on the severity, they may recommend inpatient options for severe cases or outpatient therapy. Keep in mind that parents of children under 18 can often require their child to be treated, even if the child refuses.
There are a variety of resources available that you may find helpful to connect with. In addition, be sure to check out the National Eating Disorders Parent Toolkit to walk you through every aspect of dealing with your child’s eating disorder. We know this is a very difficult time and wish only love and support to you and your family.
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.