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Eating Disorders

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Many moms are shocked when they discover their daughter or son has an eating disorder. Most moms think it won’t happen to their child. So learn the warning signs and risk factors for eating disorders and keep a watchful eye on your children during their adolescent years.

According to the Focus on Your Child website, “Anorexia and bulimia are not about food. They are about the pain, disappointment and woundedness of life. An eating disorder is much more than a physical malady. It’s an unhealthy way of using food to cope with psychological stress.”

Warning Signs

Pay attention if you begin to notice your teen is obsessed with her weight, dieting, exercise, and how many calories she is consuming. Watch for comments about how overweight she thinks she looks, especially in comparison to others. Keep an eye out for medications such as laxatives, diuretics, diet pills and enemas. Watch for strange behavior, such as hoarding food, visiting the bathroom immediately after every meal, not wanting to eat in front of the family, and developing odd food rituals during mealtime.

Anorexia nervosa, a type of eating disorder, is essentially self-starvation. These teens will see themselves as overweight even when they are underweight. You may notice your teen compulsively exercises. Physical symptoms to watch for include a slow heart rate, reduced body temperature, menstrual irregularities, hair loss, muscle tissue loss, anemia, skeletal appearance and gastrointestinal disorders.

Bulimia is an eating disorder which involves a system of binge eating, followed by purging (either by taking laxatives or by inducing vomiting). Bulimics often feel guilty about overeating, and binge in an effort not to gain weight. Watch out for fluid and electrolyte imbalances, tooth decay and gum erosion, muscular weakness, swelling (edema) and gastrointestinal disorders.

Risk Factors

There are several common factors that can lead to an eating disorder. Many teens with eating disorders have feelings of low self-esteem or social anxiety. They may be dealing with pressures from their sports team to push themselves physically and to maintain a thin build, especially in sports such as gymnastics, endurance running, ballet, swimming or rowing. They may struggle with being overweight. They may base their self-worth on their appearance. They may have trouble handling their emotions, anxieties or stressors. They may also feel helpless or out of control, and are seeking some way to control their lives. In some cases, there may be a family history of eating disorders.


You can help prepare your tween for adolescence by letting her know that her body will be going through changes, and that some weight gain is perfectly normal. And train her while she is young to place her value and self-worth on what is inside, and not her physical appearance. She may also benefit from knowing that those “perfect” models, she is comparing herself to, are most often airbrushed with computer tricks and the actresses are sometimes given body doubles for movies.

Make sure you are modeling a healthy example of proper nutrition and exercise, and not a series of fad diets and fluctuating weight. Be careful not to overemphasize your children’s appearance and weight, or to make jokes or give nicknames about their weight. If your child is actually overweight, make sure she is eating a nutritional meal plan and getting physical exercise, but don’t force a “diet” on her.

Getting Help

If you find your teen heading toward the path of an eating disorder, step in with firmness and love. Keep communication open, and encourage her to talk about the pressures she is facing at school and with her peers. Forcing your child to eat or gain weight, or criticizing her will only aggravate the situation. Don’t try to make her feel worse by blaming her or berating her. If you suspect that your teen is already struggling with an eating disorder, seek the help of a professional counselor to help her work through the underlying emotional issues. You may even consider visiting a registered dietitian to help her develop a healthy eating plan.

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

Source: Focus on the Family’s Youth Culture Department 

© 2006 iMom. All rights reserved.


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