I started bingeing and purging during my first quarter at the University of Florida in 1966. And I didn’t stop for forty-six years.
If my mom had known what to look for, maybe an early intervention would have broken-up my relationship with ED (Eating Disorder) pretty quickly and he would have become just a minor footnote in my life. But she was clueless about ED, as was I. So, instead, ED became a continuing menace in what could have otherwise been a pretty happy life.
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder are three of the most common eating disorder behaviors. Anorexics starve themselves. Bulimics eat excessive amounts of food and then usually purge to rid themselves of the calories. Binge eaters experience recurrent episodes of eating excessive amounts to the point of discomfort, but do not purge or use laxatives.
So what are the warning signs? They usually don’t show up as mental and physical earthquakes – just little tremors that may add up to a major upheaval. To me, the first thing I’d take notice of in my teen-ager is if there has been a significant weight loss* or weight gain since college send-off. If so, pay heed to the following.
Warning Signs of a Possible Eating Disorder
- Change in eating habits – becoming a vegan, for example
- Only eating a few certain foods which are viewed as non-threatening and low in calories and fat content
- Weighing themselves excessively – tying their self-worth and mood to the number on the scale
- Using appetite suppressant drugs, laxatives or diuretics
- Pushing food around on their plate but not eating it; making excuses not to eat; or actually chewing the food, but then spitting it out
- Habitually eating large amounts of food in a short period of time with no apparent weight gain or a significant weight gain
- Secrecy – such as disappearing after a meal to the bathroom
- Reluctance to engage around mealtimes – using the excuse of “I’ve already eaten,” etc.
- Exercising excessively and compulsively
- Constantly seeking reassurance: “Do I look fat?” “Do I look okay?”
- Preoccupation with body size or overly focusing on one specific aspect of appearance
- Perusing of Pro-ana internet sites (pro-ana sites promote disordered eating behaviors)
- Change in their emotional behavior: withdrawal from friends and family, heightened depression, anxiety, repressing emotions and/or anger
- Addictive tendencies in other family members – studies have shown genetics plays a part in ED No period – other bullet points don’t have periods
If you suspect any of the above or feel there is a change – talk. Engaging with a teen, we all know, can be challenging alone and adding in a potential issue can be daunting to say the least. Here are some tools and advice I found to be incredibly helpful. But, before broaching the subject of your teen possibly having an ED, do some research. These sites are inclusive, welcoming and highly informative:
Healthline features the best eating-disorder blogs of the year (2017) – geared toward connectivity and healing
Something-Fishy raises awareness about eating disorders and treatment options
National Eating Disorders offers life saving resources and information.
Tips to engage
- Darkness and driving time are generally more conducive to naturally flowing dialogue.
- Be aware of your own tone of voice, body language and facial expression, especially as you begin.
- If your college kid is reluctant to talk about her or himself, start off by asking about his/her friends and how they are doing.
- Be gently inquisitive: “Are you having a problem with eating?”
- Listen. Don’t attack, accuse, lecture or interrupt.
- Recognize it’s okay to keep an initial conversation short and simple.
- Show respect for their opinion and don’t judge the replies.
- Make yourself available to continue the conversation.
- Take a break/temporarily table the discussion if it becomes too intense or heated to productively move forward.
- If talking fails, put your thoughts in writing to your child.
Let your teen know that she/he is not alone in this battle and that together you will find the needed help so that they can be the best version of themselves – not perfect – but operating at full throttle.
Caution: Just as a stomach ache doesn’t automatically signal stomach cancer so does one or two of the above signs definitively indicate the presence of an eating disorder. A parent knows their own child. If you suspect something more is in the making, have the conversation and then seek professional help. Early intervention plays a pivotal part in the cessation of a pattern of disordered eating.
There are numerous roads that will lead to recovery. Check out university health services and psychologists and treatment centers specializing in the treatment of disordered eating. Here is a helpful site for a treatment center near you.
And one of the best books to aid in understanding eating disorders in general is: Food for Thought by Nina Savelle-Rocklin.
I fought it alone. You don’t have to.
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Inpost Image Credit: shutterstock.com