Eating disorders often begin during the teen and young adult years. However, a growing number of children between the ages of eight and thirteen are beginning to display eating disorder behaviors.
Recognizing the signs of an eating disorder and getting help as soon as possible is key to overcoming one of the deadliest mental health conditions. Children are not meant to carry the weight that a mental health disorder bears on their shoulders.
Eating Disorders Defined
Disordered eating behaviors affect more than half of women ages 25 to 45 in the United States. This preoccupation with dieting often starts early as women (and a growing number of men) try to control their weight, food intake, and exercise.
Unfortunately, these behaviors are noticed by our children. Children learn by observing the people around them and can become self-conscious about their own weight and body image. External forces also play a role as children seek peer approval, use celebrities as role models, and notice their own flaws.
Disordered eating behavior is defined as the gray area between normal eating and eating disorders. This behavior includes some eating disorder behaviors, but not to the extreme. People with disordered eating patterns do not engage in the behavior with the same frequency seen in eating disorders.
Disordered eating behaviors include rigid exercise regimens, restrictive dieting, occasional binges, yo-yo dieting, and weight fluctuations. Diagnosed eating disorders follow a pattern of compulsive behaviors. These can be due to external factors (like stress or trauma) combined with genetics, family history, other mental health conditions (like obsessive-compulsive disorder), or social factors.
Eating Disorders and Their Signs
The most treated eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating. Anorexia and bulimia are two that will, if left untreated, lead to death. Binge eating can cause other issues that contribute to a lower quality of life and early death.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, teens and young adults diagnosed with anorexia between the ages of 15 and 24 are 10 times more likely to die than their classmates at the same age. Looking at these statistics, we can understand why it is essential that we try to help our younger children to avoid eating disorder behaviors.
Anorexia nervosa (also known as anorexia) is commonly known for its symptoms of rapid and severe weight loss and a rail-thin appearance. A child suffering from anorexia will develop a fear of gaining weight. They will avoid food and mealtimes, starve themselves, and may use exercise to help burn any extra calories.
Common symptoms of anorexia include:
- Complaining of being overweight when they are actually below average weight
- Denying being hungry or going long periods without food
- Overexercising or becoming rigid in an exercise regimen
- Asking to prepare their own food
- Complaining of stomachaches, constipation, and fatigue
- Having thinning hair, brittle nails, and dry skin
- Having abnormal blood work and signs of dehydration
- Experiencing mood swings, irritability, and depression
Although more girls display anorexia symptoms, 25% of the cases are in boys. The mortality rate is also higher among boys than among girls, mainly because eating disorder stigma means that people view this mental health condition as less likely to affect boys. The symptoms in boys may go unnoticed for too long, making it difficult to treat the condition in time.
It is critical that if you suspect your child of having this eating disorder, seek anorexia treatment right away.
The difference between anorexia and bulimia is the act of purging to control weight. A child may resort to purging behaviors after meals to keep their body from absorbing the calories (and nutrients), especially after overindulging in food. Purging behaviors include vomiting, laxatives, enemas, diuretics, and excessive exercise.
Common symptoms of bulimia include:
- Hoarding food or leaving behind food packages and wrappers
- Leaving behind purging evidence such as boxes from diuretics
- Having cuts on fingers from forced vomiting
- Having low self-esteem and negative body image
- Exercising excessively or following a rigid exercise regimen
- Eating only a small amount at mealtime and bingeing later
- Isolating from friends and family
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Experiencing gastrointestinal issues and problems with teeth
According to several studies, between 1% and 4.6% of girls will develop bulimia. Although a lesser number of boys develop bulimia, it is still a significant eating disorder that can lead to gastrointestinal issues, other physical conditions, and death.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is three times more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia. Unlike anorexia, children who binge eat consume large amounts of food within a short period. Unlike bulimia, however, the child does not try to purge the excessive food. Children who suffer from binge eating may be of average weight, overweight, or obese.
Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:
- Bingeing at least once a week for three months
- Eating quickly
- Feeling out of control after a binge
- Experiencing binges that last for two hours
- Eating until they feel uncomfortable or feel pain
- Complaining of heartburn and stomach acid
- Eating in isolation
- Showing weight gain and must buy larger clothing sizes
- Feeling anxious, depressed, and have low self-esteem
- Turning to food when emotions are high
More people with binge eating behaviors seek help compared to those who find bulimia or anorexia treatment. More males (40%) report binge eating disorders than other eating disorders.
Anorexia Treatment and Treatments for Other Eating Disorders
When it comes to binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia treatment, a managed health plan is essential. By working closely with the pediatrician or primary care physician, a dietician, and a Christian therapist, you can ensure that your child has a well-rounded treatment plan.
This plan includes the physical, nutritional, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your child’s life. When your child has a solid foundation of faith, he or she may be more open to the physical and mental treatments needed to overcome an eating disorder.
Every child is different, and his or her treatment plan will be customized to their individual needs. After organizing a care plan for the physical requirements to keep the child from losing any more weight or reversing other conditions like dehydration, a nutritionist or dietician will review your child’s meals and make suggestions. Parents can learn from these nutrition experts about the foods, quantities, and timing that are best for their children.
Family therapy is another huge component of treatment. A counselor can work with the entire family to find ways to reinforce psychological techniques, manage stress, and understand the mental mechanics behind eating disorders.
If your child is younger, then his or her treatment may be behavior-based. The child may require more supervision and react with angry outbursts or temper tantrums. If your child is a teen, the counselor may engage in more abstract treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
In CBT, your child learns to recognize the thoughts and emotions behind the eating disorder behavior. Your child will learn how to analyze these thoughts and make better choices that will affect his or her life in the long term.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is also helpful for other mental health conditions if those coexist with your child’s eating disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
You are not alone in dealing with an eating disorder. You want your child to have every opportunity to stop negative eating behavior and find effective binge eating, bulimia, or anorexia treatment. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with a Christian therapist specializing in eating disorders in children.
With God’s strength, mercy, and grace combined with evidence-backed psychological methods, your child can learn to identify and change his or her thoughts, emotions, and actions. It may take time, but hope is ahead. Reach out to a Christian counselor for help today.
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