Preventing Childhood Eating Disorders

Learning to spot early warning signs of eating disorders is the best way to prevent children from suffering the serious affects of long term eating disorders. Most experts agree that the sooner an eating disorder is identified, the better the chances for long-term recovery. People who struggle with anorexia or bulimia for many years are the hardest to treat and the most in danger of death or disability.

Researchers have identified some key behaviors and personality traits that can help identify kids, and adults, at risk. A study, published in 2005, found that people with eating disorders tend to be obsessional and perfectionistic, anxious, easily upset by their mistakes, and tend to have food-related obsessions. Often they are high achievers and people pleasers. This causes pressure to live up to unrealistically high expectations from parents who have a tendency toward anxiety and poor frustration tolerance. Manipulating one’s food intake gives the child a feeling of success, and of being “in control” of themselves when they would otherwise tend toward feeling out of control.

Certain behaviors can be a tip-off. A serious condition like anorexia begins with dieting. It’s very innocent at first and there is no reason for a parent to be concerned, but what happens is that the dieting accelerates very rapidly and, essentially, the child cannot stop dieting. At first a child may be complimented for looking thinner, but becomes obsessed with accomplishing even more, and doing “better” by limiting food intake. Often the child will also start to exercise for unusually long periods of time as a way to burn off additional calories. As the eating patterns become more dysfunctional, the child begins to try and keep the extent of the dieting hidden from others. They may try to eat all their food in their bedrooms to avoid being noticed. Exercise intensifies, but the child still feels “fat” and usually hates their appearance. They begin to stop noticing that they are hungry.

Here are some suggestions for supporting healthy eating habits and attitudes:

  • Make family dinners a priority
  • Be aware of the comments you make about the appearance of your children and others
  • Encourage diversity; acceptance of all people of all different shapes and sizes
  • Teach your children to enjoy eating healthy foods
  • Teach your children to listen to their bodies to better know when they are hungry and when they are full
  • Serve healthy, balanced meals for the entire family; do not serve special plates that cater to individual preferences
  • Be a role model in how you balance work and play

source: National Eating Disorder Association

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Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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