What is an Eating Disorder?
On the website of Eating Disorder Hope (https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder)
the describe an eating disorder as follows.
Eating Disorders describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. The most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder and affect both females and males.
Eating disorders can develop during any stage in life but typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood. Classified as a medical illness, appropriate treatment can be highly effectual for many of the specific types of eating disorders. Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences can be detrimental and deadly if not addressed.
Eating disorders commonly coexist with other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or depression.
Common eating disorder warning signs
Below is a list of possible warning signs. These signs may point to an eating disorder and if one or more of these are preset it is suggested that one investigates further with the help of a trained professional
- Preoccupation with body or weight that does not match reality
- Obsession with calories, food, or nutrition
- Constant dieting, even when thin
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss or weight gain not related to medical condition
- Taking laxatives or diet pills
- Compulsive and excessive exercising
- Making regular and consistent excuses to get out of eating
- Avoiding social situations that involve food
- Going to the bathroom right after meals
- Eating alone, at night, or in secret
- Hoarding high-calorie food
- Unexplained anger, frustration, anxiety or secrecy in relation to eating and food related activities and topics
How to talk to someone about their eating disorder
Be careful to avoid critical or accusatory statements, as this will only make your friend or family member defensive. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors that worry you.
- Focus on feelings and relationships, not on weight and food. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional help.
- Tell them you are concerned about their health, but respect their privacy. Eating disorders are often a cry for help, and the individual will appreciate knowing that you are concerned.
- Do not comment on how they look. The person is already too aware of their body. Even if you are trying to compliment them, comments about weight or appearance only reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
- Make sure you do not convey any fat prejudice, or reinforce their desire to be thin. If they say they feel fat or want to lose weight, don’t say “You’re not fat.” Instead, suggest they explore their fears about being fat, and what they think they can achieve by being thin.
- Avoid power struggles about eating. Do not demand that they change. Do not criticize their eating habits. People with eating disorders are trying to be in control. They don’t feel in control of their life. Trying to trick or force them to eat can make things worse.
Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
- Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”
Adapted from: National Eating Disorder Information Center and National Eating Disorders Association
Tips for parents of a child with an eating disorder
It can be deeply distressing for a parent to know that their child is struggling with an eating disorder. As well as ensuring your child receives the professional help he or she needs, here are some other tips:
- Examine your own attitudes about food, weight, body image and body size. Think about the way you personally are affected by body-image pressures, and share these with your child.
- Avoid threats, scare tactics, angry outbursts, and put-downs. Bear in mind that an eating disorder is often a symptom to extreme emotional and stress, an attempt to manage emotional pain, stress, and/or self-hate. Negative communication will only make it worse.
- Set caring and consistent limits for your child. For example, know how you will respond when your child wants to skip meals or eat alone, or when they get angry if someone eats their “special” food.
- Remain firm. Regardless of pleas to “not make me,” and promises that the behavior will stop, you have to stay very attuned to what is happening with your child and may have to force them to go to the doctor or the hospital. Keep in mind how serious eating disorders are.
- Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem in your child in intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.
- Encourage your child to find healthy ways to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or self-hatred.
- Remember it’s not your fault. Parents often feel they must take on responsibility for the eating disorder, which is something they truly have no control over. Once you can accept that the eating disorder is not anyone’s fault, you can be freed to take action that is honest and not clouded by what you “should” or “could” have done.
Adapted from: National Eating Disorders Association
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