Eating Disorders Guide for Parents
In America, every 2-3 tweens and teens out of 100 have a daily struggle with eating disorders – some extreme, some not-so-much. No parent wants their child suffering from horrible, health-deflating eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, food phobias etc.
Yet thousands and thousands of teens suffer every year from weight issues, eating problems, body image issues and more, which places an enormous amount of stress on them and makes their social and home life a living hell.
So, as a parent, how do you best help your kid or teen see the best of themselves, ease their way to recovery and make them feel whole again?
Worry not, as I have created this eating disorders guide for parents to answer all your questions and inform you about the right ways to discuss and help your teenager for a positive outcome.
Understanding Eating Disorders
Before you have that vital conversation with your kid, arm yourself with the knowledge about eating disorders – learn what causes them, how to fix them, how many types there are etc. The better informed you are, the better you can help your child deal with it and move on in their life.
Teenagers behave differently about food when they are suffering from an eating problem. They might be in a restricted diet that never ends, or binge-eat everything in sight. Or your child might refuse a night out with friends as he/she might want to indulge in some hardcore aerobics to burn off that slice of pizza they had in the afternoon!
7 Signs Your Teenager Has an Eating Disorder
Statistics reveal that girls are much more likely to suffer from food issues then boys, which is probably due to the extremely suave and skinny images of women everywhere, which promote being thin to being healthy.
Here are 7 signs through which you can identify if your child has troubled eating issues with foods:
- Eating secretly.
- Obsessing about food.
- Counting calories of every bite and morsel they eat.
- Fear of gaining weight.
- Binge eating any food.
- Having a phobia of foods or avoiding them.
Eating disorders deplete the brain cells of much-needed energy and leads to a changed way of perceiving your body image. A teenager with an eating disorder has an altered brain chemistry which leads to distorted thinking and low self-esteem. If not treated in time, these disorders could give rise to serious medical complications such as damaged organs like kidneys, brain, bones, liver etc., and may even require hospitalization in extreme scenarios.
How to Talk to Kids/Teens About Eating Disorders & 9 Tips on Helping Them Fix It
The chances of recovery from an eating disorder are greatly increased when family support is strong, staunch and unwavering. Children will appreciate your involvement as a parent more than you realize it.
But we will not sugarcoat it – it won’t be easy! Talking to your teen, discussing their eating issues and helping them transition to healthier eating habits will all take a LOT of patience, perseverance and constant support.
Here are a few tips on talking to your teen comfortably and positively about their eating disorders and fixing them.
- Be ready for denial.
Your teenager will probably deny it at the first attempt to ‘talk it out’. Leave it at that and try again in a few days. Let them know that the discussion is not a full-blown lecture, but it is not optional either.
- Respect their time.
Set at a time to have a heart-to-heart with your child, but their convenience. If your child is already upset about something, or busy doing homework, your discussions will be seen as an intrusion and not be taken seriously.
- Don’t criticize.
Understand that your kid is probably feeling vulnerable. Treat them with kindness if they open up to you. Be accepting; not critical, and NEVER condescending!
- Don’t accuse or judge.
This is not the time for accusations. What’s done is done – you need to focus on how to make their health and life better, not give in to angry tirades that involve accusations and judgements. This will just hurt your child more and may end up making the problem worse.
If they say they’ve been sneaking food into their room, tell them a funny incident related to it, make a positive joke or just listen quietly.
- Offer help and support.
Be very open about the fact that you are there to help them and support them, no matter how bad things get. This should be crystal clear at the end of the very first discussion you have with your teen about eating disorders.
- Lead by example.
Be the best example you can be by showing your child how accepting you are if your own body. Exercise with them, and if not, then in front of them. Don’t call yourself fat or talk about weight issues. Act perfect and make them feel it too. Also important – not criticising other folks’ body shapes or cracking jokes about them.
- Show your child that images can be photoshopped and air-brushed to perfection.
Teenagers are deeply affected by media and glossy, glamorous celeb pics of gorgeous and thin men and women only make them more conscious about their own bodies. Indulge in some Photoshopping and show your teenager how much a software can alter an image to make it look superstar good.
- Have healthy food at home.
Make cooking fun and have a huge variety of healthy food options for your children to choose from. Let them b up healthy smoothies and make fat-free sandwiches which are delicious as well as nutritious.
- Build your teenager’s self-esteem and self-respect day by day.
You need to take baby steps as eating disorders don’t go away in a week or even in a month. You need to take every day as it comes and focus on making them feel better and get better. Compliment your child often and shower them with love every day.
Remember – you did not fail at patenting and it is NOT your fault. So, don’t blame yourself or your child. Also know that recovering from an extreme eating disorder will take a lot of time. So don’t be pressured into hurrying the process, or show impatience with your teen. This is not a quick-fix thing.
Your kid needs compassion, patience and understanding. Give them hope and motivate them to a better future based on healthy eating.
— Samantha N