ARTICLE: Eating Disorders – Identifying the Signs
The following article was published by the Kanner Jugend Telefon KJT) as part of their ongoing BOD campaign (May 2017):
It can start with an innocent comment on a child’s ‘puppy fat’ or the changing body of a pre-adolescent, or after a short illness when a teenager might feel more noticed for having lost weight, or simply because we still live in a society immersed in images of healthy, sexy, thin people. They can affect boys as well as girls, and children as well as adults. And they come in all shapes and sizes. Eating disorders are often very difficult to diagnose and may include behaviours across a spectrum from deliberate starvation to binge eating and vomiting.
In general most Eating Disorders are caused by a lack of confidence or distortion of thoughts around body shape. They can often start as early as 8 years old and continue into adulthood. In particular pre-teens and teenagers are effected as their bodies are changing and they are finding their own identity in the world. Eating Disorders and the accompanying anxiety around body shape or size can also run in families making it harder to identify and treat. They can also be associated with a social networks, especially now with particular web sites which encourage weight loss sometimes irresponsibly and illegally!
For parents and the people who work with children and young people it is important to be able to talk about Eating Disorders, be able to recognise some of the possible signs, and to know what to do and where to go for advice and support. Often Eating Disorders are not talked about openly because they are misunderstood or not taken seriously. In the past this behaviour may have been labelled as ‘attention seeking’ and just a normal part of growing up, but today we know that Eating Disorders are dangerous for healthy, growing, young people and can even kill.
Eating Disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating and other disorders that don’t fit neatly into those categories, including severe food avoidance leading to nutritional deficiency, also known as restrictive food intake disorder. The signs like the illness itself are often difficult to identify especially as children’s and adolescent bodies are changing so much. A change in attitude to food, eating communally (e.g. at the family dinner table), and wearing baggy clothing can be tell-tale signs. As well as extreme moodiness, anger and anxiety about being seen semi-naked or unusual fixation on body talk (comparisons, calorie counting, diets). Also long periods alone or in the bathroom, and visiting websites that encourage weight loss. Of course all of these behaviours can be normal in a pre-adolescent or teenager but for whatever reason they are worth checking out.
It is never too late to take time out to speak to your child about what is happening in their world offline (with school, friends, activities) or online including what social media they are using or websites they enjoy visiting at the moment. It is recommended that parents spend some uninterrupted one to one time with their growing child. When they reach adolescence this can be a challenge, but parents can take the lead by making a date with them to do a favourite activity, sport or just go out for a meal. Find the moment to raise your concerns but be careful to listen and not lecture.
If you suspect your child may be struggling with an Eating Disorder or you are just concerned about them it is important to get more information and advice.
Of course the first person to speak to is your child but you can get support in doing this by speaking to your paediatrician, family doctor or your child’s school councillor (SPOS in Luxembourgish Schools). You can also contact the KJT Online Help Service for Parents in Luxembourg, which is free, confidential and anonymous. Your child may also contact the KJT Online Help Service for Children & Youths too. These services are offered in English, French, German & Luxembourgish. All you need to do is go to www.kjt.lu and choose your language.