Disordered Eating, Younger & Younger

Articles
November 10, 2010

Disordered Eating, Younger & Younger

SupermarketGuru has noticed an increasing amount of headlines and talk about both the prevalence and incidence of eating disorders in middle school aged kids, as well as those a young as 8 (mostly anorexia).

SupermarketGuru has noticed an increasing amount of headlines and talk about both the prevalence and incidence of eating disorders in middle school aged kids, as well as those a young as 8 (mostly anorexia). Since we’re all about health and wellness and believe that it is important to promote healthy eating during childhood in order to instill good habits, we thought this was definitely an important subject to bring to the attention of our readers.

Eating disorders currently affect approximately 25 million Americans, approximately one quarter of which are men. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among all psychological disorders; the mortality rate for female adolescents is twelve times higher than the rate of all other causes of death. Eating disorders do not discriminate between gender, class, race or age. Most importantly and contrary to popular belief, an eating disorder is not based on food.

In an interview with Johanna S. Kandel, the author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder: Reclaim Yourself, Regain Your Health, Recover for Good, and founder of the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness, SupermarketGuru uncovered some important facts and issues.

What “causes” an eating disorder?
There are several factors that may lead to the emergence of an eating disorder.

Biological factors: eating disorders often run in families - those with a sibling or parent with an eating disorder are 12 times more likely to have disordered eating as well. The risk of developing an eating disorder is over 50 percent determined by genetics. What do we mean by this? Some inherent characteristics that are common in those who develop eating disorders are perfectionism, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a people pleasing mentality.

Social factors: unrealistic pressures to obtain the “perfect” body; the constant influx of images of perfection; and narrow definitions of beauty.

Psychological factors: there is substantial co-morbidity with other mental health disorders - i.e. depression, anxiety, low self-esteem.

Interpersonal factors: history of abuse; being teased for size or weight; traumatic life events.

Johanna describes the genetic component to eating disorders as - “genetics load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger”.

What are the signs for parents and friends to look out for?

Anorexia in young kids: potential weight loss and/or not gaining weight as they grow. Pay attention to what they are talking about - are they talking a lot about their body? How do they look, pale, dark circles, do they complain of feeling cold? These are all signs. Are they constantly making excuses for not eating i.e. already ate with a friend, headache, homework etc, are they pushing food around the plate? Does the child seem introverted, closed off or antisocial? Is there a delay or absence of menstruation for 3 or more months? Is their hair dull? Do they have a light “peach fuzz on their body” – this is the body’s response to feeling cold.

Bulimia: 75-85 percent of bulimics are normal or overweight. They often engage in secretive eating – at night half of food is missing, hiding food in room, swollen glands, puffy cheeks, broken blood vessels in eyes, complaining of sore throat, and constantly in bathroom after meals.

What can you do to help? First realize that as a parent you are not to blame, and you cannot deny it if you suspect your child has an eating disorder. It is important to seek early intervention and specialized help. Johanna suggests visiting the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness or the National Eating Disorder Association and contacting your family physician as a first step.

Be supportive if you suspect your child has an eating disorder. Johanna suggests some important ways to improve self esteem: avoid negative comments about your own body, do not use food as a reward, positive reinforcement, or punishment – food is fuel. Never hold a child back from activities that require certain outfits; i.e. do not discourage an overweight child from going to the beach. Encourage physical activity as family- biking, dog walking - the emphasize should be that exercise is for good health and not weight loss. Another important self esteem booster is to eat as family.

Focus on complementing you child on things other than appearance; like talents, accomplishments, humor, and kindness. Make sure you initiate an open line of communication; when looking at ads and TV explain to children that hours of prep time including makeup, airbrushing, and expert lighting are used to make the images perfect – and in fact these images are unrealistic. Take your children grocery shopping and explain that there are no good and bad foods – focus on food as fuel. Emphasize the importance of moderation, and the importance of eating a variety of whole foods, fruits and vegetables.

A message from Johanna Kandel, “help is available, recovery is possible, eating disorders do not discriminate, no one is immune… although eating disorders are very serious there is help and hope… Don't be afraid to ask for help – don't feel shameful – people don't choose to have eating disorders, but they can choose to get help”.