Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Know the Symptoms

Eating DisordersIt’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Did you know…

81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. Yes, you read that right – 10 YEAR OLDS!

Over half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors. In other words, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that a teenager YOU KNOW is concerned about her or his weight – enough to take action to change it.

Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. I find this to be one of the more tragic of the statistics. For such a prevalent issue, can’t we do better in getting help to those in need?

Sadly, there are plenty more disturbing statistics. Please take some time to learn more about this treatable illness and what it means to you as a parent. (We’ll talk mostly about girls, but know that eating disorders affect teenage boys, as well).

During the tween and teen years, it is typical for girls to focus on their physical attributes. This can make it difficult for parents to distinguish between a normal interest in appearance and one that should cause concern. Complicating matters, is the rapid development that causes sudden and dramatic changes in your daughter’s body. Knowing the symptoms of eating disorders can help you determine if someone you love needs help.

Eating disorders typically become evident in the tween and teen years of development and are often accompanied by depression, anxiety or substance abuse.Eating Disorder Awareness

There are three types of eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa involves severe weight control that stems from an intense fear of becoming fat. Weight control can take the form of extreme dieting, excessive exercise, purging after consuming calories or using diet aids.

Bulimia is a destructive cycle of eating to excess and then going to extreme measures to get rid of the extra calories by inducing vomiting.

Binge eating disorder involves eating thousands of calories over a short period of time. The person feels unable to control her behavior and may continue to eat even after feeling full.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder all have unique symptoms. In general, if you notice any of the following in your tween or teen, you’ll want to investigate more for a possible eating disorder:

  • Preoccupation with body or weight
  • Obsession with calories, food, or nutrition
  • Constant dieting or restricting food intake even when thin
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Making excuses to get out of eating
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals
  • Taking laxatives or diet pills
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Eating alone, at night, or in secret
  • Hoarding high-calorie foods
  • Eating very quickly
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Continuing to eat to the point of uncomfortable fullness
  • Feeling guilt, disgust or depression after eating too much

What Does this Mean for You as a Parent?

This is scary stuff for parents, that’s for sure. But if your tween or teen becomes suddenly thin or starts putting on some weight, try not to overreact and be careful how you address it. Stay focused on the specific behaviors that are causing you concern (such as not eating or standing on the scale a lot). Look for sustained patterns of not only her weight, but in how your daughter behaves around food and describes her body.

If you suspect a problem, consult a professional who has experience working with eating disorders. Know that eating disorders are a biologically based illnesses. You are not the cause of the problem. You’re involvement in it’s treatment, however, is essential. Know the symptoms of eating disorders, educate yourself on the illness and learn your role in the treatment process.

Eating disorders will not resolve themselves; if left alone they will get worse.

Car Thought (something to ponder as you shuttle your kids about): Use Eating Disorder Awareness Week to notice your tween’s or teen’s relationship with food. Does your child use food (eating more or less) as a way to cope with stress?

Tell us about your experience with a loved one’s eating disorder.

When did you know there was a problem?