Eating disorders are far more common than you might think. There are a few reasons underpinning why they come up, how they stick around, and what makes them go away.
Like many mental illnesses in the United States, there is a culture of toxic personal accountability involved in the culture around eating disorders. The assumption is that eating disorders are a choice. People imagine it as only happening to people who want it to happen.
But what actually happens when a person develops an eating disorder? Well, nothing that a person actually has any control over, that’s for sure. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about what eating disorders are, how to spot them, and what to do in response to them.
What are Eating Disorders?
An eating disorder is one way that an anxiety disorder can be expressed. A person, usually a young person, will begin to associate eating with intense negative emotions. The stereotype is young girls who become anorexic because eating makes them anxious about their bodies.
That stereotype is indeed the most common sufferer of an eating disorder that you will see. This is because eating disorders can be caused by environmental factors; the food a person has access to, the people judging their bodies, and the amount of stress in their environments.
Eating disorders are, essentially, defensive reactions against stress. They simple misplace the stress from other things onto the food the person needs to survive.
How to Spot Eating Disorders
Because eating disorders are the result of stress, spotting them means that you have a lot you can look for. That comes with the downside that you can end up having too much to look for. So, let’s narrow it down: What stress reactions are related to eating disorders?
We will start with the obvious one. Picky eating might not seem like an eating disorder, but the more you think about it the more you will see it lines up. People who cannot stand certain foods that are healthy or can only eat a highly limited number of foods are good examples.
Eating disorders are bigger than just anorexia. They can mean choosing not to eat entirely, but they can also mean choosing to only eat in specific, unhealthy ways.
This is a symptom of stress that often becomes eating disorder adjacent. Basically, a person chooses to work rather than eat. This is an important symptom to look out for because it is all too often praised; after all, who doesn’t want to be a hard or productive worker?
But a kid does not need to be productive. They need to be safe and well-fed.
More supplements are advertised to children these days than ever. It gets to them through their phones, their friends, even their teachers. The interest and use of diet supplements is a distant precursor to eating disorders, but it does get children started down the path to thinking about it.
Many children develop behavior changes as they approach their teens. And admittedly, eating disorders are only one of many possible explanations for these changes. But all of these changes should be investigated and understood. You do not need to always intervene though.
Understanding is the most important thing. Maybe they are getting more angry because they are not eating. Or maybe they are getting more angry for basically no reason. Doesn’t hurt to check.
How to Stop Eating Disorders
There are lots of ways you can identify an eating disorder. But what do you do once you have spotted one? This is a comparatively straightforward step in the process, but the word “comparatively” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
There are a few things you absolutely need to do once you have identified that your child suffers from an eating disorder. Let’s start with the most important actions for you to take.
Get Them into Therapy
It is important that you take this step quickly and decisively. It can make your child feel much safer—even if they do not initially like the decision—for you to make this decision quickly.
It also means you are not trying to solve the problem yourself. You are going to professional help. That said, you should try to stay with your child during this time. Reassure them that they did not do anything wrong, and that you are there to support and take care of them.
Get Educated on What They are Going Through
This is pretty straightforward. You need to know what they are going through both so you can communicate it to them, and so you can know what to do. This means understanding their needs on both an emotional and physiological level.
You can find lots of resources for this at https://www.oceanrecovery.com/
Get Them Medication if They Need It
Young children cannot always take medication, but you can do your child a world of good by getting them treated for depression and anxiety early. These are the most common root causes of eating disorders, but there are others as well, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And yes, children can suffer from these things as well. In fact, more children suffer from these things than at any time in human history. It is not a great time to be a child right now.
Eating disorders are not the fault of the people that have the disorder. They are a product of their environment, and the natural irrationality of human emotions. People like to imagine that they have perfect control over their feelings. That is simply not the case.
Given that, it is important that you treat eating disorders like the sickness they are. It is not a behavior to be punished out of your child. That will only make things worse. It is a problem to overcome with them. Think of it like you are helping them with some very important homework.