Parenting Tips - Does your Teen Have an Eating Disorder?By Child Safety Specialist March 06, 2012 | 02:30 pmPosted in: Family
Growing up, I never suspected that some of my closest girlfriends had eating disorders. Only now, as adults, have they confessed this to me. Having never suffered from an eating disorder myself, it’s something that’s quite foreign to me. The reality is that it’s all too common. In fact over 11 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Many girls with an eating disorder are very good at hiding it. I use the feminine here but, a significant number of boys also have an eating disorder.
I didn’t realize the distinction between an eating disorder and disordered eating. An eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder that must be clinically diagnosed by a physician. Disordered eating is a general term used to describe a variety of abnormal eating behaviors that are used to maintain a lower body weight. Binge-eating, chronic over eating, and chronic dieting are all forms of disordered eating.
So how do you broach the subject if you think your teen has an eating disorder? This is a group notorious for secretive behavior and the refusal to admit that anything is wrong. After all, everyone has to eat, so being “caught” with food or “just eating healthy” is a matter of judgment. The ultimate goal is to have a good enough relationship with your teen so that if something changes you will notice – they say, “I’ve become a vegetarian”, or they subsist on diet soda or coffee – it’s these seemingly small changes that sometimes are the only clues (especially if a teen is purposely hiding his or her behaviors and is not communicating with you). At a non-meal/eating time, speak to your child privately and express your concerns in "I" statements. "I worry when I see you push your plate away at dinner. I am wondering if there is something more behind it." Open the conversation without accusing your teen of anything. That gives her the best opportunity to open to up to you. If he or she denies there is a problem – which they probably will -- mention your concerns again in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way again at another time. If your teen becomes defensive or angry, that may indicate that there is something more to your concerns and it is time to get a professional involved. Usually by the time parents discover the problem, it’s already time to see a professional.
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