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My child has an eating disorder, what do I do?

Adolescent Girls

While many eating disorders develop during adolescence and early adulthood, it is not uncommon for them to occur during childhood. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, eating disorders occur in nearly three percent of all individuals 13-18-years old. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted eating disorders are increasingly being recognized in children as young as 5 to 12 years old.

What are the most common types of eating disorders?

The National Institute of Mental Health states that anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are the most common types of eating disorders for adolescents and teens.

  • Anorexia: Individuals with anorexia severely restrict calories, avoid certain foods, or eat small quantities of only certain foods. Even though many people with anorexia are dangerously underweight, they often see themselves as overweight. Health consequences due to anorexia can include weak bones, heart damage, brittle hair and nails, and anemia. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, with many people dying due to do the medical complications associated with the disorder.
  • Bulimia: Those battling bulimia have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, followed by engaging in behaviors such as vomiting, taking laxatives/diuretics, or excessive exercise. Over time, bulimia can cause throat, teeth, stomach, and heart damage, in addition to gastrointestinal problems.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: People with binge eating disorder eat large amounts of food in a short time, but unlike bulimia, they do not follow it with purging behaviors. Binge eating disorder can cause obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

What red flags should I look for?

Parenting can be hard, and sometimes we don’t know if our child is simply being a child or if their behavior is cause for concern. But, some red flags can be a sign of an issue in your child, such as:

Body Image Concerns

  • Uncomfortable being in certain clothing such as a swimsuit
  • Resistance to go clothes shopping
  • Negatively talking about their body or shape
  • Wearing baggy clothes to conceal areas of embarrassment on the body–neck, stomach, legs

Negative Feeling Toward Food

  • Feeling guilty or depressed about eating something perceived as unhealthy. This can be a warning sign of a fear of food that can lead to restriction and the creation of food rules.
  • Feeling uncomfortable when eating in front of others or public places, such as school.
  • Hiding food, which is common with binge eating disorder. (candy, chip, etc. wrappers hidden in the bedroom.)

Perfectionist Personality and Mood Disorders

  • Presence of a perfectionist personality, perfectionism is very common in people with an eating disorder.
  • History of or presence of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the eating disorder behaviors can be a way to express the mood disorder.

How can I help my child?

Parents and relatives need to be aware of eating disorder symptoms and behaviors so they can proactively address the issues early. These tips may help you:

  • Notice the warning signs of a possible eating disorder such as changing behaviors around food, physical and emotional changes, and conversations about body image.
  • Listen openly, reflectively, and without judgment when your child shares their feelings. If you don’t understand, ask them questions and ask how you can support them. Validate how they are feeling instead of only offering solutions.
  • Educate yourself about eating disorders, including facts and myths. Learning more about recovery and treatment programs will help you to understand more about what your child needs.
  • Offering support is vital. Focus on their positive personality traits and their mental health instead of only food-related behavior. Be a role model in your relationship with food, weight, and exercise and create an environment that promotes healthy behaviors.

If you do think your child does have a problem, remain calm and do not be judgmental.  Adolescents who have an eating disorder are dissatisfied with their bodies and have a negative relationship with food, leaving them struggling to find happiness. Studies have shown that early intervention provides the best outcome for long-term recovery.

At Toledo Center, our adolescent program offers a structured and stable environment for male and female adolescents (ages 10-17) who are suffering from an eating disorder, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

Our clinicians work with the client and their family to design a customized treatment program that includes medical and psychiatric supervision, utilizing evidence-based clinical interventions to help process underlying issues related to eating disorders. We use evidence-based programming that immerses clients in individual, group, and family therapy, with emphasis on meal planning, symptom reduction/elimination skills, and relapse prevention. By focusing on goal setting and continuously recognizing progress, clients are able to restore their physical and psychological health and transition to a life free from their eating disorder. Additionally, we offer tailored education plans to help clients continue their education while they are in treatment. Our Education Coordinator works with the school to coordinate assignments so clients can continue their studies without worrying about falling behind.

Clients receive care from our professional staff 24-hours a day, 7 days a week who help in daily living activities such as personal hygiene, medications, self-responsibility of room cleaning, time management, and recreational and community activities.

If you need help for your child, call the Admissions team at Toledo Center today or complete our contact form. We are here to help you, your child, and your family.

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