Updated: Oct 29
The never-ending pressure of fitting into society's idea of "beauty" has put massive pressure on young people. At every turn of a page or scroll of a screen, people are being constantly hit with the notion that your worth is based on things like the number on the scale, and the number of people who follow you. This toxic mindset that society has thrust today's youth has caused a spike in body dysmorphia and eating disorders. As a parent, it is important that you are aware of the possibility that your child could develop an eating disorder, as well as equipping yourself with the knowledge and tools to recognize the signs of one that your child could be attempting to hide from you.
Eating Disorders are incredibly complicated to understand, and we wanted to give you a starting point if you suspect that your child could be in the midst of developing a toxic relationship with food. If you do start to notice some of the signs explained below, or you are just interested in learning more about eating disorders and how to help protect your loved ones from developing one visit the learn page on the National Eating Disorder's Awareness (NEDA) website. Over 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and while it is more prevalent in females it could affect your son as well. As previously mentioned the complex nature of the disorders can cause countless negative reactions to the person's body, mood, or personality and we will link more extensive resources at the bottom of the article.
Avoiding "food situations"
If somebody is dealing with an eating disorder it entirely consumes their lives. Their disorder and the idea of losing/keeping off weight is at the forefront of their minds at all times. One way to tell if your child could be dealing with an eating disorder is if they are consistently avoiding situations involving food. Many people with eating disorders are tired of making excuses about why they aren't hungry so they avoid those situations. Many social events in a person's life; from Christmas dinner to going to the movies with your friends are centered around consuming food. A child with an eating disorder can begin to isolate themselves and opt-out of a lot of potentially fun times because of their toxic relationship with food.
Many people might think of weight loss as the most obvious physical sign of an eating disorder. While this can be a way for you to notice a problem, it is not always the most reliable. Not every person who has an eating disorder loses large amounts of weight, and many people wear baggy clothes to try and hide their weight from the people around them. Luckily, for parents, there is a plethora of signs that can indicate that you may need to have a serious conversation with your child. Some examples of symptoms include; a thin layer of hair being grown around the body in an attempt to keep the body warm, dry nails, dizziness, yellowing teeth, always being cold, etc.
A child who is dealing with an eating disorder can be very protective over their disorder. They have a warped relationship with food and they do not want anybody to get into the way of reaching the weight loss goals that they have set up in their heads. Your child could switch the focus off of how little they are eating or how much they are exercising onto other things or they could start to develop what they call "ritual behavior". Control is a massive part of an eating disorder and if you start to see your child eating their food in certain orders, cutting their food into tiny pieces before eating, or chewing their food an excessive amount, a problem could exist.
Another sign that your child might need some help has less to do with food and more to do with exercising. Many individuals with eating disorders become obsessed with burning off any, and often times more, calories than they bring in with food. They constantly feel the need to be in the gym working out and trying to "make up for the food they ate". This can become obvious, as a parent, if your child is spending an outrageous amount of time in the gym a day, or feels the need to go multiple times a day. It shows another way that an eating disorder can consume a person's life because often times people will pass up on social or family events in order to have more time in the gym. The idea of control comes into play with exercising as well because you could start to notice that your child has an extremely regimented gym schedule that they are very unwilling to break.
Toxic food relationships start at very young ages and parents need to be aware of the signs to watch out for in case their child could begin to develop an eating disorder. Like any mental health difficulty, doing your research and being informed is the first step in effectively helping your child.
Having a child with a mental, emotional, social, or behavioral difficulty can be incredibly isolating for both your child and you as a parent. Here at PA Parent and Family Alliance, we wanted to remind you that you are not alone, and you are your child's biggest advocate. Check out the resources below to get a better grasp on the complex world of eating disorders, and where and how to reach out for help if you feel like you or your child needs it.
Are you having trouble advocating for your child, or even knowing where to start? Reach out to one of our free and confidential Family Support Partners at 888-273-2361 or online here.