How to help a child with an eating disorder



Nearly 3% of teens will struggle with a clinical eating disorder. A further 50% of teen girls and 30% of teen boys will use unhealthy behaviors to control their weight. (REFERENCE– ©Adobe Stock

Christy’s weight plummeted to 65 pounds. She chewed food for flavor and then spit it out. She wouldn’t drink water for fear of bloating. Without any nutrition she couldn’t get out of bed, her eyes changed color, her menstrual cycle ceased, and she endured a host of other physical problems. One day, her mom broke down crying and said, “You’re killing yourself, Christy. You can’t do this.” Finally, Christy recognized she had a problem. In the process of trying to be perfect, she had let food rule her world.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Many believe eating disorders are the result of a dysfunctional home or some kind of trauma suffered by the individual, but that is not always the case.  Certain factors contribute to eating disorders, but the underlying cause is often difficult to determine.

Christy had loving parents who cared for and encouraged her through her pre-adolescent and adolescent years. They never suspected she would develop anorexia. But she did.

“I was a curvy girl—not fat—just curvy,” Christy says. When she obtained a contract to model in her late teen years, she decided she no longer wanted her curves. Losing five pounds felt good, so she tried for another five, then another five, then another. It became a mental struggle as she began to believe her body looked fat, when it really didn’t. She continued to lose weight, fearful of losing control and going back to her curvy self.

Once Christy acknowledged her need for help, her mom took her to an outpatient treatment facility for anorexia, where Christy checked in willingly. She made friends with other young women who struggled with similar issues and began to recover through regular sessions of individual and group counseling.

Christy was given a meal plan she followed religiously. She gained 40 pounds in a month and many of her physical issues resolved themselves.  She felt better than she had in years.

It became a mental struggle as she began to believe her body looked fat, when it really didn’t.

Christy advises parents of tween and teen girls to be aware of their daughters’ eating habits. If your daughter starts to pull back from eating or you notice a significant decrease in appetite, ask questions. “Are you not feeling well?” “Are you stressed out?” “Are you feeling pressure at school?” If your daughter focuses on how she looks and is making comments such as, “I’m so fat,” “Look at my belly,” “I need to lose 20 pounds,” pay attention.

Today’s society teaches girls the wrong standards. Girls are comparing themselves to photoshopped models and trying to emulate them. Reinforce to your daughter weight is just a number—it doesn’t define who she is.

Christy also emphasizes the first female role model for girls is their mom. “Our daughters are watching and learning from us,” she says. She encourages moms to teach their daughters “they don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be a certain size, and they don’t have to look a certain way to be successful.” Remind them “Beauty truly comes from within. It’s not your outward appearance that matters most.”

If you determine your child has an issue, Christy says, “It needs to be addressed head on. Don’t let it go; it can spiral quickly. Start with a family physician and let the doctor give you suggestions.” Many physicians have their own nutritionist on site that can help. Parents often need support too. Ask for referrals for a counselor trained in eating disorders. “It’s an entire process. They need to know how to eat, what to eat and actually how to start over,” Christy says.

Eating disorders often start in girls as young as 11 or 12 when their bodies go through significant change.

The strain and pressure put on the body cause long-term effects many don’t recognize. Due to severe dehydration from her refusal to drink water, Christy’s body couldn’t flush out its toxins. This created significant kidney issues that resulted in Christy requiring surgery to combat infection. She still struggles with long-term effects that include regular appointments with a urologist to ensure her kidneys are working properly and has concerns damage to other internal organs could prevent her from having children.

Don’t ignore the signs. “An eating disorder is a living, breathing thing. There’s not enough awareness out there. It’s killing people,” says Christy, “but it doesn’t have to.”

GAYLA GRACE holds a master’s degree in psychology and counseling and seeks to educate and empower parents and stepparents. She is from Louisiana.





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