How to Deal with Childhood Anorexia: What You Should and Shouldn't Do
Do you think your child has anorexia? Read on to find out what you can do -- and shouldn't -- to help your child have a healthier self-image.
Have you noticed your child regularly skipping meals, making excuses for not eating or eating only foods that are low in fat and calories? Does your child constantly complain about being fat or has irrational worries about gaining weight? Is your child exercising way too much?
These are just some warning signs that your child could have anorexia.
What is anorexia?
Anorexia Nervosa is one of two major eating disorders, the other one being Bulimia Nervosa. It is characterized by three factors:
- restriction of food intake, leading to weight loss;
- intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat; and
- body image disturbance.
What most people don’t know is that 85% of anorexia develops during the teen years. This means that most adult anorexic patients already manifested the symptoms when they were younger. Anorexia is more common in girls, women and teenagers.
Anorexia is not an issue about food, but more about not being able to deal with emotional problems in a healthy manner. People with anorexia equate thinness with their self-worth.
What causes it?
“Anorexia in young people usually starts out with a dieting behavior,” explains Dr. Evelyn Gapuz, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist who holds clinic at The Medical City and St. Luke’s Medical Center Bonifacio Global City.
“Additional factors like family history of an eating disorder, social and cultural influences (fashion) and certain psychological characteristics, such as perfectionism or a need to feel in control, may further contribute to the development of the condition,” she adds.
For those who have these predisposing factors, receiving compliments for losing weight is like adding gasoline to a fire: it just encourages the anorexic behavior even more.
Vigilance toward your child’s behavior is vital in catching the signs of anorexia. We listed down some tips on what you should and should not if you suspect your child has anorexia.
What to Do:
- Understand anorexia. Learn the signs and symptoms. Sometimes it can be hard for parents to distinguish if their child has a mental illness. Being informed will help you determine if your child is exhibiting behaviors that should be a cause for worry.
- If you see some red flags, take your child to a doctor immediately so that he or she can be diagnosed early.
- Seek intervention as early as possible. Do not wait for the condition to worsen. Anorexia can lead to many other complications such as heart problems, anemia, bone loss, kidney problems and even death.
What Not to Do:
Dr. Gapuz shares some tips for parents on what to avoid doing if their child is diagnosed with anorexia:
- Do not sweep the issue under the rug. It would be more helpful if you open the channels of communication with your child.
- Do not blame yourself. Anorexia is caused by a number of different factors. Blaming yourself will not help your child get better.
- Do not think that your child is intentionally being difficult. Remember that your child is also experiencing a difficult situation. Do not expect that he or she can simply snap out of it.
If your child has anorexia, your support is important. So, together with your doctor, do whatever you can to get your child treated, and make sure he or she knows you’ll be around no matter what.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JANICE LIM
- Dr. Evelyn Gapuz, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist; Room 1216, St. Luke’s Medical Center – Global City Medical Arts Bldg., 32nd St. and 5th Ave., BGC, Taguig, tel. (2) 789 7700; The Medical City Compound, Ortigas Ave., Pasig, tel. (2) 635 6789
- www.mayoclinic.com – Mental illness in children: Know the signs
- www.mayoclinic.com – Definition of Anorexia Nervosa
- www.mayoclinic.com – Definition of Eating Disorders
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