Warning Signs & Strategies for Disordered Eating
As parents, you are on the front lines with your children, who are being bombarded constantly by peer and media messages that tout the thin ideal. Unless you emigrated as an adult from a culture with more realistic feminine and masculine ideals, you also will have been inundated with messages about what is right, and what is wrong, regarding food, body size and shape.
Most women feel some dissatisfaction with their body, and would like to be at a different weight from where they are now. In fact, 80% of women are dissatisfied, and one in two women are currently on a diet.
Men too are increasingly demonstrating body image concerns and the numbers of men with disordered eating behaviour are on the rise, with 10% displaying symptoms of an eating disorder. Up to 25% of men are dieting any given day. As parents, you will also know how easy it is to pass on a behaviour to our children – they do as we do, not as we say.
As one in every four individuals will experience some form of disordered eating behaviour in their lifetime, and the most common time of onset for eating disorders is in the teen years, it is important, as a parent, to be informed about the causes, signs, and solutions to disordered eating. The average for teenage girls to begin dieting is 14, but the issue can arise as early as infancy.
Causes: There is no single cause of disordered eating. There is a strong correlation between incidents of childhood sexual, and physical abuse, and the later onset of disordered eating. But, it may surprise you to know that recent studies show that it is emotional abuse, and/or neglect, that are the strongest childhood precipitators of eating disorders. Also, modeling from parents plays a strong role in body satisfaction, and in our attitude towards food. Media messages and peer influences also have a strong impact on our body satisfaction, and overall self-esteem level.
Signs to look for : According to the DSM-IV (the text that medical and psychological practitioners use for diagnosis) there are five recognized types of disordered eating:
- Anorexia: Restrictive Type: Characterized by extreme restriction of food intake and typically, dramatic weight loss.
- Anorexia: Binging/Purging Type: Extreme restrictive behaviour with bingeing and purging behaviour (vomiting, use of laxatives, extreme exercise), dramatic weight loss.
- Bulimia: Those with bulimia are often normal weight or perhaps slightly over their natural body weight. The main characteristic of bulimic behaviour is the perpetual cycle of bingeing and purging.
- Binge Eating (Compulsive Eating Behaviour): Characterized by binging, often many times a day and a feeling of being out of control around food; judging themselves as lacking willpower, lazy, and a failure. Most often the individual with compulsive eating behaviour will be higher than their natural weight.
- Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: Those who don’t fit one of the above categories, and yet struggle with food and weight concerns would fit this category.
In addition to the above specific characteristics there are a number of behaviours that are common to all concerns: An extreme preoccupation with food and weight; rigid (all or nothing) thinking; distorted body image; restrictive behaviours around food; feelings of guilt and shame; and secrecy.
What You Can Do:
Treatment: If your child is exhibiting some of these symptoms, I encourage you to arrange for him/her to speak to a specialist in the area of disordered eating as soon as possible. The sooner these concerns are identified and addressed, the more rapid the recovery process will be. Having said that, it is never too late, and you are never too old to recover fully from disordered eating.
Prevention: As a parent you have limited ability to influence the media, and the opinions of your child’s peers. You do have power over your own beliefs and feelings around food and body issues, and if you worry that your own concerns, (if they exist), may influence your child, I encourage you to seek some support. One of the best things you can do for your child is to let them know that they are loved, and that they are acceptable just as they are. Let them know that their feelings are valid, and they are okay, and encourage your child to express his/her feelings. You can model for them some healthy ways to express sadness, fear, joy, and even anger. Imagine the depth of connection you will share with your child, or perhaps already share, through the mutual, respectful expression of feelings. Do this, and your child is not likely to seek a sense of nurturing and identity in food.
Michelle Morand, M.A. runs The CEDRIC Centre, which offers groups, workshops and individual support for those with disordered eating and related concerns. For more information contact The CEDRIC Centre at (250)383-0797 or visit them at www.compulsiveeating.com.
This Article orginally appeared in Island Parent Magazine, the February 2003 issue. Island Parent is the resource publication for Vancouver Island Parents.
Articles are published at The CEDRIC Centre website for information and tracking purposes, they feature qoutes from our counsllors and information about our work. We are not responsible for the content of any article and can only assume responsibility for direct qoutes.