Talking with your kids about eating disorders

Talking with your kids about eating disorders

Eating disorders continue to be an epidemic in the U.S. every day, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

The ANAD estimates more than 8 million Americans have a type of eating disorder. The majority are women with most of them starting these eating disorders in their teens.

The two main types of eating disorders that affect youth today are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia is a psychological disorder characterized by delusions that you are too fat, when in fact you are very thin. Bulimia is when a person binges on large amounts of food and then tries to get rid of it by fasting, excessive exercise, taking diet pills, vomiting or using laxatives.

Health enews checked in with Dr. Adam Ebreo, pediatrician with Advocate Medical Group in Bloomington, Ill., about how parents should talk with their children about eating disorders:

What are the signs that a teen may have an eating disorder?
One of the main things to look out for is weight loss. The adolescent may believe that his or her weight is abnormally high and may feel as though they need to lose weight. You may start to notice signs of depression, fatigue and increased moodiness as well.

My child is feeling uncomfortable about their body. What should I do?
As your child’s body changes through puberty, they may start to feel uncomfortable with what is going on. It’s so important to let children know that their puberty changes are normal and healthy!

Do eating disorders only affect girls?
No, actually according to recent studies from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), males account for up to 5 percent of patients with anorexia and 10 percent of those with bulimia.

If a parent comes to you, as a physician, and suspects their child may have an eating disorder, what do you tell them?
First, I would thank the parents for recognizing and being proactive in trying to help their child with a possibility of an eating disorder. As a clinician, I would consider checking the child’s nutritional status with counseling and possibly psychotherapy to figure out the underlying problem.

Do you recommend that parents just deal with the situation and not involve a doctor?
I think that if a parent is concerned their child has an eating disorder, it’s best to get help from a medical professional. Getting help from a physician, dietician or psychologist is key to helping a child succeed in combating an eating disorder, right away before things get worse.

The following are other signs the NEDA offers for parents to look out for:

  • Excessive or rigid exercise routines
  • Constant denials of hunger or skipping meals
  • Dramatic weight loss or dramatic fluctuations in weight
  • Unnatural preoccupation with dieting, weight and food labels
  • Changes in clothing to cover up drastic weight loss
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Abuse of laxatives, diet pills as well as self-induced vomiting

“If parents see any of these symptoms, it’s imperative they get involved early and seek help,” Dr. Ebreo says.

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About the Author

Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.