It’s in every parent’s best interest for their kids to be healthy. While parents must instill healthy eating habits in their children, they must be careful not to promote an unhealthy preoccupation with food and appearance inadvertently. Body image issues increase the likelihood that children and adolescents will develop eating disorders.
Children with eating disorders are much more common than people realize. Messages about the importance of diet, maintaining a healthy weight, working out regularly, and dressing a certain way to fit in with society are bombarding children from a young age. One’s body image is their mental representation of their body, including their perception of shape, size, and how their body makes one feel.
Body image issues, comparisons to others, and negative views on food can be passed on to children from adults at home, in the classroom, and online. Parents can make a difference by teaching their children not to judge themselves by the standards of media portrayals of beauty but rather to celebrate the many ways their bodies can look healthy and whole.
Acquiring Knowledge of Eating Disorders
Disordered eating affects people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and races equally. The prevalence of eating disorders among both sexes is equal. Environmental and cultural influences and genetic and mental health factors have all been linked to the development of eating disorders.
Some parents may believe they are setting a good example regarding their children’s diets and exercise routines. Focusing on portion control, good versus bad foods, and strict or extreme exercise can send children unintended messages of disordered eating. Children learn from their parents and peers, so it’s important to model positive body image for them.
Social media is one of the largest environmental influences on children and teenagers today. The idea that being thin or of a certain body type is necessary for physical attractiveness is widely propagated on social media. One study found that adolescent girls who spent a lot of time on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like restricting their diet and excessive exercise.
A lot of parents struggle to tell the difference between what’s “normal” for their teenagers when it comes to food and exercise and what might be warning signs of an eating disorder. There may be a number of warning signs that a child has an eating disorder before their parents catch on. You must follow your gut when you observe changes in your child’s emotions or behavior.
Types of Eating Disorders
A wide range of conditions is classified as eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder make up the “big four” of eating disorders (ARFID).
As the name implies, anorexia (anorexia nervosa) is characterized by a severe aversion to gaining weight and a consequent restriction of caloric intake. A child’s growth rate may slow, but they won’t lose weight. Anorexic people often fear gaining weight and are often in denial about how thin they actually are. Anorexic children or adolescents may mistakenly believe they are overweight despite being malnourished.
Binge eating, or bulimia, is characterized by the inability to control one’s eating after consuming a large quantity of food in a short amount of time. A lack of self-control regarding food often accompanies emotional eating. Overcompensating for weight gain after binge eating can take the form of purging, laxative abuse, diet pill misuse, or excessive exercise.
3. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Aversion or fear of food due to its appearance, smell, or texture characterizes Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It’s easy to confuse it with picky eating, but extreme cases can cause malnutrition, stunted growth, or even weight loss. There is no connection between ARFID and concerns about putting on weight or having negative body image issues.
4. Binge Eating
Involuntary and excessive overeating, or binge eating, is the hallmark of binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is distinct from bulimia in that it does not involve compensatory behaviors like purging after bingeing. There may be feelings of embarrassment or guilt following binges, which can contribute to further weight gain.
The Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder
It is not always simple to spot the signs of an eating disorder. Some kids might not meet the strict criteria for an eating disorder. Talk to your kid if you see them exhibiting any of the above traits over a long period of time.
If you’ve noticed a change in their eating habits, such as a refusal to eat school lunches, an increase in their exercise routine, or a return to eating dinner alone instead of with the family, it’s time to have a conversation about what’s going on. Any warning signs should be dealt with as soon as possible. When eating disorders are treated in children and adolescents at an early age, they have a better chance of full recovery.
Helping in What Ways?
The existence of an eating disorder is not always easy to recognize or accept. Acknowledging your child’s feelings and actions, validating their difficulties, and asking how you can help are all ways to show support. Instead of getting angry, try approaching your child with concern and empathy.
Just saying, “I see something is bothering you,” is a great way to show your child you understand and accept their feelings. Clearly, you’re in a bad mood. I can see why you’d be upset if you don’t feel like eating tonight. To what extent can I help you? Your child’s emotion will be named, and the cause of that emotion will be acknowledged.
You can help your child greatly by acknowledging and accepting the feelings he or she is experiencing and by actively seeking ways to be there for them. Doing so demonstrates that you care about assisting them rather than attempting to solve their problem.
It’s possible that, as a parent, you have unconscious preferences when it comes to your children’s diet and physical activity. If you’re worried that your kid has an eating disorder, you must make it clear that you love and accept people of all sizes and shapes.
Recovery from Eating Disorders
Each child with an eating disorder may require a unique approach to treatment. Outpatient treatment is the first level of care for an eating disorder. Specialist therapists and dietitians in the field of eating disorders are part of the outpatient treatment plan. This is the standard method for dealing with these conditions.
Talk to your child’s doctor or pediatrician if you’re worried she may be showing signs of an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is available for confidential evaluations at 1-800-931-2237. Remember that you, the parent, are your child’s biggest fan and source of knowledge.
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