Identifying and Addressing Eating Disorders in Kids
My daughter and her friend were talking in the car last week about a girl in their circle who they believe has bulimia. They spoke about how they have talked with her about their concerns to no avail and were curious about what they should do next. They didn’t want to compromise their friend’s trust but were worried about what would happen if they did nothing.
Eating disorders are an all too common occurrence among teenagers today. This serious and sometimes fatal illness is twice as prevalent among females than males. While our societal view of body positivity has increased acceptance of the many shapes and sizes humans come in, many teens are still under pressure to look thin. It is estimated that 40-60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned with their weight and becoming overweight. Another study found that over half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys have unhealthy weight control behaviors.
So what can parents do to help kids understand and appropriately address eating disorders? The first step is to understand the different types of eating disorders.
The intense fear of becoming overweight leads people with this disorder to avoid eating. Despite their severe emaciation, people with anorexia still see themselves as fat.
Binge eating and then the compensatory behavior of purging the eaten food is called bulimia nervosa. People with bulimia may purge the food by self-induced vomiting, using laxatives, enemas, fasting, and extreme exercise.
People who have binge eating disorders eat a substantial quantity of food and then feel guilty for having eaten so much. However, they usually do not resort to purging the food like in bulimia. People with binge eating disorders are typically overweight and binge at least once per week.
How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder
It is important that your child understands how to help a friend or acquaintance with an eating disorder. They should feel comfortable speaking up. Counsel them on how to appropriately address their concerns before it is too late. Patience and support are essential. Often kids with eating disorders have low self-esteem and are afraid to ask for help. It is common for kids to deny having a disorder, so persistence is key. Encourage kids to get treatment as soon as possible. More tips on how to help someone with an eating disorder can be found here.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, schedule an appointment with their pediatric provider as soon as possible. A supportive, non-judgemental and open dialogue is critical to helping them overcome their eating disorder.