Eating disorders in children can be frightening to handle as parents and can happen at any age. It is a constant battle to ensure that our kids have a healthy body image, given the media they are exposed to in which airbrushed, thinned out men and women become representative of society. While we do our best to build our children’s self-esteem and limit their exposure to media, we have also educated ourselves about eating disorders. There are three primary disorders:
The child with Anorexia has an uncontrollable fear of weight gain and refuses to eat. Symptoms of Anorexia can include rapid weight loss, careful monitoring of diet, an obsession with food, a refusal to eat more than a few bites of food, eating in secret, feelings of being fat even when unhealthily thin. Untreated Anorexia can quickly damage internal organs and bones, cause an irregular heart beat and eventual heart failure, and can be fatal.
The child with Bulimia eats uncontrollably then purges to avoid gaining weight, either by throwing up or through the use of laxatives. Symptoms of Bulimia can include throwing up after eating, binge eating, radical changes in eating habits, obsessions with food, and unexplained anxiety. If left untreated, children suffering from Bulimia can permanently damage their teeth and esophagus as well as cause damage to internal organs and the digestive system.
The child suffering from binge eating gorges on food and has an unhealthy relationship with food. Food is often used as an emotional bandage. Symptoms of binge eating can include rapid weight gain and unusual eating habits. One of the biggest risks of this eating disorder is obesity, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and other long-term health complications.
Each of these disorders can result from a number of different issues, including peer pressure, low self-esteem, fear of becoming overweight, and stress. While most of the children who suffer from eating disorders are female teens, these disorders do affect boys, too, and can start at much younger ages.
There is no single cause of eating disorders, but many people suspect that unrealistic images in the media of what men and women should look like play a part in contributing to the proliferation of the disorders.
If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, it is important to obtain medical care as quickly as possible. A child suffering from an eating disorder will need not only medical care but also counseling and possibly psychiatric care to help them restore a healthy relationship with food and with their body.
As a parent, it is scary to think about eating disorders in children, but if you focus on building your child’s self-esteem and watch for danger signs of depression, anxiety, stress and poor eating habits, you may be able to intervene before it becomes an issue.