What Parents Should Know about Tweens and Eating Disorders

Child's feet on scales
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It's not uncommon for children as young as 8 to take an interest in their weight. It's no wonder, when you consider the culture in which we live. The images our children see on television, in film, and in print make it clear that thinness and beauty go hand in hand. The message our children hear is that you can't be beautiful unless you're unnaturally thin. The result is parents worry about children, eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss.

Eating Disorders and Tweens

Just because a tween is thinking about her weight, doesn't necessarily mean that she's suffering from an eating disorder. But if she's losing weight or obsessing about dieting, she could be headed for trouble. Children, eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss are not uncommon and tweens are not immune to eating disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders, as many as 10 percent of people who suffer from an eating disorder say that their disease first began at age 10 or younger.

Eating disorders are serious, and have serious consequences. A child who suffers from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or any other eating disorder could suffer malnutrition, injuries to internal organs, embarrassment, depression, and damage to the teeth, esophagus, gums, and more. Death is also a possibility.

Eating Disorders: Symptoms

To be sure your child isn't developing an eating disorder, be on the look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • dramatic weight loss
  • obsession with losing weight
  • anxiety or depression
  • criticizes herself or her weight
  • suffers from low self-esteem
  • visits websites that promote binging or other eating disorders
  • brags about her weight loss
  • has an unrealistic view of her body (sees herself as obese when she's perfectly normal, for instance)
  • eats alone or in secret
  • hoards food
  • avoids parties, dinners, or other events where food might be involved
  • has bizarre food rituals
  • goes to the bathroom right after eating
  • uses clothing to hide weight loss

If you suspect your child's self-image regarding her weight is unhealthy, you'll have to take action. Discuss your concerns with her, and ask if she's troubled about her weight and how she looks. She may or may not open up to you, but either way, share your concerns with your child's pediatrician. Also, consider consulting a pediatric mental health professional for advice and support. Treatment could include consultations with a family psychologist, psychiatrist, and of course, your child's pediatrician. Group therapy may also be an option for both you and your child. Hospitalization may be required for serious cases.

Also, take every opportunity to reinforce your family's values concerning nutrition and healthy living. Point out how important it is that she eat healthy foods every day in order to help her body grow, and to give her the energy she needs to do all the things she enjoys.

Point out that nutrition is important to keep her skin and hair healthy, too.

Families should also discuss what they see on television and in magazines regarding beauty and image. The images our children see are not real, as photos can be altered and models can be made to look flawless, when they really aren't. Point this out to your daughter, so she knows to be critical of the images she sees everyday. Above all, reinforce how beautiful your daughter is on the inside, and that her personality will always be her most beautiful quality.

Parents may not have to worry about children and eating disorders as long as they know the keys to prevention and the red flag warnings that there might be a problem. A little knowledge can keep your tween safe, and you feeling much better about your child's attitude towards beauty and health.

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