How To Identify If Your Child Has An Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are a group of disorders which were once considered to be uncommon in Indian culture, so much so that they were thought to be culture-bound syndromes by some.
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However, in most recent times, the incidence of these has been on a rise along with more awareness in professionals as well as in parents. With billboards and magazines shouting out ‘thin is in’, it is no wonder that the majority of young people are starving themselves to achieve ‘size zero’. We hear of a new diet almost every day and most people are sharing stories of what they are doing to lose weight. Are we going too far though? Is this generation giving paramount importance to weight and external looks over other personal attributes?
What are eating disorders and their types?
Eating disorders are unhealthy eating patterns leading to emotional, social and/or physical difficulties. Eating disorders can be of various types. Common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
People with anorexia are very strict about what and how much they eat. They may think about food or calories almost all the time.
To lose weight, some people with anorexia fast or exercise too much. Others may use laxatives, diuretics (water pills), or enemas.
Eating disorders appear to be a reaction to the demand that adolescents behave more independently and more adultlike. The teenagers feel a lack of control over other areas in their life. These teenagers typically lack a sense of autonomy and selfhood. Many experience their bodies as somehow under the control of their parents, so that self-starvation may be an effort to gain validation as a unique and special person.
Adolescence is a time of intense changes. In addition to cognitive changes, teenage is a phase of rapid physical growth brought about by hormonal changes and puberty. Regardless of the timing of onset, physical appearance is of paramount importance during this time (wanting to “fit in”, but also develop their own unique style). Teenagers become overly conscious about their weight and appearance.
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So when should parents be worried about eating disorder or what are the signs to look out?
- Rapid or unpredictable weight gain or loss
- Change in eating habits
- Excessive obsession with weight and appearance
- Using the bathroom immediately after mealtime
- When food items go missing
- Compensatory weight loss strategies
- Physical changes
- Psychological changes
How can parents help?
Prevention is always better than cure. Here the ways parents can help:
- Emphasize on fitness rather than thinness in your child.
- Encourage them to have open conversations. Help them understand that all they see in magazines or TV (stick-thin models) may not be realistic.
- Love them unconditionally and encourage them to develop personal attributes not related to weight or appearance.
- Help them realise that any diet or weight loss should be done in moderation.
- Talk to your child calmly, but directly about your concerns.
- Be supportive rather than invalidating their concerns.
- If you are worried about your child, seek early help and talk to a professional.