Eating disorders are shockingly common in the United States, but they are woefully under-treated; while up to 24 million people in the US have an eating disorder, only 10% of them get treatment. If you think your child might have an eating disorder, it is important that you jump into action immediately. Eating disorders can cause horrible complications and even death.
Signs That Your Child Might Have an Eating Disorder
Has your child started acting strangely? These signs could point to an eating disorder.
- Suddenly eating less than normal or eating much more than normal (binging)
- Rapid weight loss
- Repeated negative comments about weight or looks
- Spending more time than usual in the bathroom
- Excessive exercising
- Frequently weighing self
- Loss of hair
- Irregular or stopped menstruation
What to Do (and Not Do) if You Think Your Child Has an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are very tricky to deal with. Reacting too strongly to the revelation that your child has an eating disorder can sometimes make it even worse, so you have to tread lightly. Here are some of the dos and don'ts if you think your child might have an eating disorder.
- Do talk to your child about the problem. If you notice many symptoms of an eating disorder in your child, you should sit down with him or her and talk about it. Your child might be feeling alone, and having your support could help your child to realize that he or she has a problem.
- Don't get angry. While you should talk to your child, you should definitely not come into the conversation angry. Losing your temper and yelling will only escalate the situation. Making your child feel isolated is not the way to go. Never try to threaten your child into eating (for example, saying that you will take away privileges if he or she does not eat). Eating should be something that your child chooses to do on his or her own.
- Do get your child into a treatment program. There are many specialized treatment programs available for people with eating disorders. If the eating disorder is still in its early stages, you can put your child into cognitive behavioral therapy. Your child's therapist will help him or her to work through the underlying problems that led to the disorder. If the eating disorder is more advanced, your child may need to be put into a hospital for his or her own safety.
- Don't make negative comments about your child's weight. Saying things like "You are so skinny!" can be very damaging to your child's self-esteem and make the problem worse. You can say that you are worried about your child's health, but do not hone in on his or her physical appearance.
- Do be patient. It can be very frustrating to deal with someone who has an eating disorder, but you should always remember that it is a mental illness. Your child is struggling and is not just being obstinate. Try to patiently work with him or her to come up with the best plan of action for treating the disorder.
- Don't blame yourself. Eating disorders can happen to anyone. You should never think that you failed as a parent or that you were involved in any way with your child developing this disorder. Instead of feeling guilty, just do the best you can do at helping your child overcome the disorder.
Seeing your child struggle with an eating disorder can be scary, but it will not last forever. With the help of a firm but loving treatment plan, your child will be on the road to recovery in no time.