Kids and Eating Disorders
Children who are still growing and developing need a healthy diet to fuel all of this activity. At times children go through food phases or become picky eaters but these phases are distinct from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Unfortunately, eating disorders are on the increase among older children and teens and most develop these disorders between 11 and 13 years of age. The good news is that there is much that can be done to prevent eating disorders from developing, and many signs that can alert family and friends to the need for professional help.
Preventing Eating DisordersVery few young children develop eating disorders, but even by the end of primary school children are beginning to become interested in the opposite sex, aware of fashion, trends and personal appearance and to drift into puberty when they find their bodies changing very rapidly and without their consent.
At this time many girls begin to become curvy and develop breasts, as well as retain a little more weight, which can be a danger period if they are determined that they must remain at a certain weight or size of clothing. Family and friends can help prevent eating disorders at these ages by:
- Insisting upon a varied, healthy diet for everyone.
- Encouraging appropriate amounts of exercise for health and fun.
- Barring dieting for children.
- Engaging in regular discussions about school, life, dreams, etc with all children.
- Listening to children’s thoughts on weight and body image.
- Helping children retain realistic expectations about healthy weight and image.
- Praising children’s talents and skills.
- Reminding children regularly that they are loved and valued.
Signs of Eating DisordersMany children are able to hide the signs and symptoms of eating disorders for months or even years, which can put their health at great risk. There are many behaviours that can signal an eating disorder, however, such as:
- Significant weight loss or gain.
- Continuous dieting or discussions of dieting.
- Fear of weight gain.
- Persistent preoccupation with food/eating/weight.
- Persistent preoccupation with fashion, clothes sizes and/or personal appearance.
- Eating while alone or in secret.
- Hidden food or laxatives/diuretics.
- “Grazing” or eating all day or for as long as food is on offer.
- Vomiting – or regularly retiring to the toilet – after meals.
- Frequently running the taps while in the toilet (to cover evidence of vomiting).
- Swollen cheeks and/or bad breath (from vomiting).
- Excessive exercising to burn calories.
Getting Help for Suspected Eating DisordersChildren with eating disorders will rarely acknowledging their behaviours and ask for help on their own. Instead, it is usually up to family and friends to interpret the signs and insist upon professional help. With eating disorders, the earlier that help is sought and treatment implemented the less the damage to a child’s long-term health.
Rather than soliciting professional help in secret, however, it is advisable that the situation is discussed with the child in question. Explaining why it is believed that help is needed, and what will be required of the child, will help keep everyone on the same page.
For further information on eating disorders and getting help for eating disorders, contact the National Centre for Eating Disorders or the Eating Disorders Association.