“My daughter has lost over a stone and become very distant and moody.

But my friend says she is just a normal teenage girl.

You’ve methodically planned the week dinners, and you’ve ordered the correct ingredients for each planned meal from your favourite online supermarket.

It’s been a busy day at work, and you’re counting the minutes down till THAT time in the evening where you can sit down, flick on the new season of The Crown on Netflix…snack on the secret stash of biscuits you’ve hidden away from the world and put your tired and very sorry looking body upon that glorious sofa.

Before THAT time however, you’re slaving away in the kitchen creating the next MasterChef’s edition of a Tuesday’s night’s dinner.

You’re answering questions left right and centre from your husband and teenager, whilst whisking the lumps out of the now slightly grey looking Beef Gravy, and noticing that you’re burning the vegetables, you left to simmer, on the now very disgruntled looking electric hob.

Agh. Hard isn’t it?

But you believe that you’re providing quality family time and ensuring that each family member is eating a healthy and balanced diet…. or are they?

Your daughter has been distant recently and offers for that weekend coffee date at the local coffee house have been refused.

Today’s lunch box, filled with your daughters’ favourites has been left untouched and abandoned on the kitchen worktop, where you left it this this morning.

But this has been happening for a few a weeks’ now, and your daughter’s once smile stricken face has become glum, and sad.

Her once bouncy personality, has withdrawn into the depths of the deep, and she’s snapped at you.

A few times now.

Your daughter has become so angry recently and will no longer talk about anything with you.

You’re worried.

Is this an eating disorder?

And what can you do to help?

In this issue, I’ll be taking a look at eating disorders within children, and how we can help.

Eating disorders commonly develop from the age of 14. This is a time when young people are becoming more independent and parents often have less control over the food they eat.

It can also be a time when your relationship with your child goes through many changes, often resulting in difficult conflicts. Equally, your child may become more distant from you.

It can be difficult to know whether changes in your child’s behaviour the result of normal teenage development, or whether they are signs of an eating disorder.

An eating disorder is not primarily about food and weight. Eating disorders develop when a person becomes dependent upon food to cope with difficult feelings and emotions.

“I felt I had lost all control in my life. My friends had moved on and I wasn’t doing well at school. Losing weight was the one thing I could do – food became the one thing I could control.”

There are two main different types of eating disorders:

Anorexia involves severely restricting what you eat in order to lose weight. Sufferers lose a large amount of weight but believe themselves to be fat and have a great fear of putting on weight. The intensity of this fear is profound and usually described as a phobia of normal body weight i.e. an irrational fear, not of being fat, but of being a normal weight.

People with anorexia can either be restrictive – they restrict their calorie intake and engage in excessive exercise or bulimic, eating a large amount of food at once then inducing vomiting.

Bulimia involves eating large amounts of food, then making yourself sick so your body does not absorb the food. Bulimia involves binge eating but at normal body weight. It occurs at an average age of 18.

All eating disorders are likely to change the way you live your life. Your child is likely to become more withdrawn, secretive and have sudden mood swings.

Eating disorders are complex problems which are expressed in behaviour, emotions and have a physical impact upon the sufferer’s body. Signs will vary for each type of disorder and every individual is different. However, if your child displays a large proportion of the physical, behavioural and psychological signs, he or she may have an eating disorder.

The first step is to discuss your concerns with your daughter or son. They will be experiencing many difficult emotions and may deny there is a problem, become angry with you, or withdraw. You may need to raise the subject several times before your child takes on board your concerns. Each time emphasise that you want to offer help and support.

If you have concerns, it is very important that you raise them, however difficult that may be. Eating disorders rarely get better without treatment and if left without intervention, can become increasingly resistant to treatment.

Once your child agrees to discuss their problems with a professional, your GP is the best person to see together. Your GP can refer you to a range of specialists with extensive experience of treating eating disorders. These specialists include psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, dieticians and nutritionists.

However, with early intervention, the chance of a full recovery is very good.

1. Trust Your Parental Instincts

It is common for individuals with eating disorders to not even be aware they have a problem. This is called anosognosia. Your child is likely to deny there is a problem when asked directly. Do not let this throw you off. Watch and observe him or her closely.

2. Do Not Blame Yourself

A common parental response to learning their child has any problem or illness is to blame oneself. Don’t! Any time you spend trying to understand what may have caused the eating disorder is time you have wasted. Instead, focus your energy on helping your child get well by following the rest of the steps below.

3. Get Informed

Being an informed mental health consumer will help you to help your child recover. Read and learn about eating disorders. You can find good information using online tools, and here at The Mind Vault, we are always happy to help.

4. Visit Your GP

Make an appointment with your child’s GP. Make a list of the reasons you are concerned. Take notes during the appointment. Ask for a copy of your child’s growth charts and discuss them with the doctor.

In the case of a child that has been losing weight, be especially wary if your GP schedules a follow-up appointment several weeks away and suggests no interim course of action other than to observe if your child willingly puts on weight. This “wait and see” approach can be dangerous, and you may need to be assertive about asking for a sooner follow-up and/or referral.

5. Seek Support for Yourself

Caring for a child with an eating disorder can be an overwhelming and isolating experience. Many parents benefit from the support and wisdom of other parents who have been there. Good support groups can be found online and understanding that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a step in the right direction to better manage an Eating Disorder.

When it comes to eating disorders, it is better to overreact than to underreact. The steps above are no-regret moves—you will not create a problem if there is not already one there. And fortunately, early intervention greatly improves prognosis.

Peace and Love to you all,

Michaela Johnson

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