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Our Favourite Ways to Cope With Eating Disorders in Children

It's difficult and upsetting when you notice that your child is starting to develop an unhealthy attitude towards food, but there are steps you can take to help and support them

 

Increase in eating disorders in children and adults

As a society we are becoming more and more conscious about weight in adults and children. Be it media attention, peer pressure or an unhealthy sense of self, Eating Disorders can affect anyone and range from binge eating to anorexia.

One adult confesses they were shocked by a recent experience:

"I was at a birthday party for a fourteen year-old not long ago and overheard the children discussing birthday cake with disdain, and it was the boys questioning how the girls could possibly eat the cake as it was full of carbs and sugar and would inevitably make them fat. At first glance I was horrified; how could a group of 14 year olds be so afraid to eat a piece of birthday cake? Upon further consideration it was positive to hear that they were learning about healthy eating in school, but concerning that they were taking things to extremes! Everything in moderation."

Discussing eating disorders in children

Whether your child or teen is overweight or underweight it can be a difficult yet vitally important subject to discuss, especially as last year saw children as young as eight admitted to hospital for issues related to eating disorders.

According to the charity Beat (Beating Eating Disorders), over 1.6 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, most between the ages of 12 and 25.

While historically weight issues have generally focused on young girls and women, it is becoming less of a gender exclusive issue as 18% of those treated are men. As is the case with women, there are still a lot of people who go untreated.

Eating disorders can be beaten, but as a parent you need to look for the signs, talk to your children and seek further help if you think there is a problem. Your GP will be able to provide you with further information on treatment, and organisations like Beat or Beat Carers can provide information and support for you and your child.

Does my child have an eating disorder?

You may notice a change in your child's eating habits or you may notice a behaviour that becomes habitual such as frequent trips to the bathroom after meals

According to Beat there is a series of questions an individual can ask to determine if there might be a problem, called SCOFF.

SCOFF questions:Ways to Cope With Eating Disorders

  1. Does your child make themselves Sick if they feel uncomfortably full?
  2. Does your child worry they have lost Control over how much they eat?
  3. Has your child lost more than One stone in 3 months?
  4. Does your child think they are Fat, but others comment on how skinny they are?
  5. Does Food dominate their lives?

If two or more of these questions are answered with a yes, it's advisable to seek advice from your GP.

Some questions are a lot easier to answer about yourself than about your child, as they may not express much about how they are feeling.

If you're worried about your child having an eating disorder...

Things to keep an eye open for:

  • Flat out refusals to eat on a regular basis; having tiny portions, or taking food but pushing it around the plate
  • Obsession with how 'fat' they are
  • Thinking they look vastly different to how other people see them
  • Constantly partaking in strenuous exercise, usually alone and for long periods of time
  • Hiding food in their room, or eating only when they think no one knows
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals or snack time
  • Noticeable fluctuation in weight (both up and down)
  • Trivialising drastic weight loss in themselves or others
  • Attempts to conceal weight loss by wearing bulky clothes
  • Withdrawing from normal social activities and friends
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Stomach crampsWays to  Cope With Eating Disorders
  • Missing menstrual cycles in women
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to keep warm
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowish colour to the skin
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Difficulty sleeping, or constantly feeling tired
  • Abrasions and hard skin on the hands, caused by inducing vomiting
  • Dry skin
  • Bloating, especially in the facial region
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body
  • Loss of hair from the head
  • Cavities or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting.

What should I be doing as a parent?

Beat offers their advice on eating disorders in children:

  • Sharing family meal times can help build positive attitudes around food
  • Talking about something other than just the food at meal times can help
  • Give your child praise, compliments and encouragement for a whole range of their attributes - being kind, helpful, generous, funny - not just their appearance or shape
  • Consider your own behaviours around food and your own body; even very young children pick up things very quickly. If you are self-critical - making negative, disparaging comments about your own or others' shape, size and eating habits, they will take that on board
  • Children need a greater percentage of fat in their diet than adults do to grow and develop their bodies. Low fat foods should only be given to children under medical supervision
  • Just be there. Listen and support in a non-judgemental way to provide them with the encouragement and support they need
  • Find out as much you can about an eating disorder to help you understand how they are likely to behave
  • Try not to give advice or criticism, but give time. You don't have to know all the answers, but it is important to be there
  • Be prepared for the fact that they may find it difficult to talk about; sometimes it may feel as if your love or friendship is being rejected. Remember that beneath that angry exterior is a frightened person
  • Get help and support. The sooner someone gets help and support, the better their chances of a quick recovery so don't wait too long. Act on the first sign of distress and encourage them to talk to their GP.

More advice on eating disorders in children

Ways to Cope With Eating Disorders

If you feel like you need further advice or support on children's eating disorders, you can visit Beat or call them on 0845 634 1414.

 
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