Your daughter or son has an eating disorder- or do they? Now what?
Afraid Your Child Has An Eating Disorder? Here are Some Signs.
Eating Disorders, I will refer to them as ED, have permeated society and they are more common than they ever were- probably because they are more talked about and recognized by the medical community. I was anorexic throughout high school, measuring 6'0", and weighing in at 130 lbs on a good day. I was an athlete, and it was hard for me to accept that fact that my fellow female athletes who were of course for the most part, much shorter and smaller than me weighed in the 120s. I felt enormous at 140 and basically ate one apple each day until my hair was falling out and my lips were blue. But, I was so proud of how skinny I was! My bikini body was phenomenal and I had 'self control!'
When I started University, I was no longer playing sports and keeping very active, and partying had entered my lifestyle pretty much full time. I was unable to keep weight off by starving, so I learned from friend how to binge and purge, and just how to make myself vomit when I felt too full. This is something that I never could shake. I've been in Eating Disorder Treatment three times now and it's gotten much better, but I know if I don't control my intake, it can spiral out of control. Weight is a constant battle with me, but my life is more important to me than being super skinny. I have to be here for my children, and so I do my best to stay away from ED behaviours.
What Are Some Signs of an ED?
I am not a professional, but having struggled with these disorders my whole life and having been in treatment with others who've battled the same problems, I do know some telltale signs that a person probably has a problem with food.
- Is your child avoiding meals or obsessing about what they eat? This might not be indicative of an eating disorder, but several of the girls I was hospitalized with were super picky about what they ate, how many calories they consumed, and they scoured the fat content in packed food like salad dressings.
- Do you clean your toilet bowl or have a cleaning lady clean your toilet bowls? Do you notice that there appears to be vomit on the rim or on the bottom of the seat? Was someone sick, or is this an ongoing issue? It may be that your child is purging their food.
- Is your child depressed? Does he/she obsess about weight? Has she lost interest in everything, including food? Does he/she insult herself? Does he/she have horrible mood swings and avoid social situations?
- Does your child defecate frequently? Are there any signs of laxatives or laxative packages in your home? Some of the girls I was in treatment with would take 40-50 laxatives a day. They stop having an effect and they give the person taking them a horrible stomach ache and a desperate feel of constipation.
- Does your child work out obsessively? We're not talking a run a day or a team sport, but working out five times a day. At the height of my Anorexic period, I ran/worked out 5/6 times a day.
- Does your child cut? Cutting isn't always associated with eating disorders but it often is. Children will cut themselves, normally between their legs in the thigh area and sometimes on their arms.
- Does your child seem obsessed with weighing him/herself? Is there a need to weigh several times a day?
What Can I Do If I Think My Child Has An Eating Disorder?
The very first thing I would recommend is talk to your child. Tell them your concerns and ask them if they have a problem with food. They may not even know it yet. Ask them to be honest with you about their eating habits, about their purging/taking laxatives/cutting. A lot of kids in these situations do want to be loved and attended to- so there is no better time to show your concern when your child is struggling with their body image and food.
Any therapist will tell you that it's never about the food. It's always about something else- lack of love, lack of control, something else. I personally partially disagree with this theory. It's somewhat about the food in my opinion. Kristi Alley said it best. When asked why she gained a bunch of weight she responded 'Because I ate like a pig and laid around and didn't exercise, I'm not stupid.' We don't always have to discuss the deep-seated reasons we do this- but you will be told that it's never about the food. And, you'll have to work with this.
If talking to your child doesn't help, you might want to get them to a therapist. I would recommend your child going to a therapist that specializes in eating disorders. Some therapists can prescribe medication, some cannot. Your child may have to see a psychiatrist for medication if you and your family find it necessary to go that route, and then a therapist for sessions.
If the symptoms and behaviour do not get better, you might consider full time hospitalization. You can go as a day patient or more recommended, a full time patient. The eating disorder units normally have waiting lists so you'll probably have to wait depending on the seriousness of your child's condition. The Eating Disorder units or programs have fairly strict routines, which start by a backward weigh-in each day and strict rules at mealtime. There is also all kinds of classes and sessions all day where people can talk about their feelings and the reasons why they abuse food. I can say that most people, at the end of this therapy, are much better. Relapses happen, but I know I felt a lot better and did a lot better, and learned a lot about myself.
Whatever route you decide to take, don't stop talking to your child about their behaviour and try not to get discouraged- they need your support more than ever.
A Good Video About Female Athletes and Eating Disorders
One Young Girl's Story
Don't Stand By- Try to Help Your Loved One
If you suspect your child of having an eating disorder, whether it be obesity, binge eating, purging, anorexia, restricting food or anything that will affect their health, please ask them. The results of my many years of eating disorders have rotted my teeth, torn my esophagus, given me several problems including having to take medication for the rest of my life. If you can stop it before it becomes an epidemic, reach out and help!
Eating Disorder Help
Phone: (800) 931-2237