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What Is Your Child's Potential For Developing An Eating Disorder?

Upset teen clutching a pillow

Eating disorders are not a new subject; in fact, we've been inundated by information about anorexia nervosa and bulimia for several years. In spite of the wealth of information available, however, eating disorders have not gone away. Rather, they've only spread to larger segments of the population. Eating disorders are no longer rare in pre-adolescent girls.

Eating disorders often hit the "model child," the perfectionist who uses dieting as a way to gain control over her life. Sometimes, youngsters who have low self-esteem or who have trouble coping with stress become preoccupied with weight.

However, problems can also appear where least expected. Children who are involved in some sports activities can be pressured to "slim down a bit" to participate, particularly in sports such as gymnastics or wrestling. Thus, the very place where one would expect emphasis placed on a healthy lifestyle becomes the source of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can have serious, even fatal, consequences. The good news is that recovery from eating disorders is possible. If the problem has taken a firm hold, professional help such as therapy or even hospitalization may be necessary.

Below are some parenting tips that you can implement to help your child avoid eating disorders.

  • Focus as a family on nutrition and exercise, not dieting and weight.
  • Be careful when discussing your own weight: You may be surprised to find how many times you speak negatively of your own appearance.
  • Avoid driving your child to excel beyond his or her capabilities.
  • If your child begins to diet, find out why.
  • Finally, work to help your child feel successful and in control. Stay aware of what is going on with your child at home as well as in school.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Strong fear of being fat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Distorted body image
  • Preoccupation with food and calories
  • Refusal to eat, or eating only small amounts
  • Excessive exercise
  • Binge eating
  • Obsessive weighing

Symptoms of Bulimia

  • Depression
  • Emotional instability
  • Obsessive weighing
  • Excessive exercise
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Feeling of guilt after eating
  • Feeling out of control
  • Inability to stop the binge/purge cycle
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Stealing food from the family

At this point, you have the ability to head a problem off before it becomes serious. It is important for you to be aware of the attitudes you are presenting to your very impressionable child. Perhaps it is time to examine your own self-image as well. If the whole family focuses on good health and fitness, everyone will benefit.