Author: Cathy Fransca
Here’s a fact: Eating disorders are hugely under-reported and underestimated. The facts and statistics are surely horrifying enough but they do not begin to touch the true number of individuals affected. Nor do they explain all that the eating disorder steals from those who suffer. While it is more obvious to see the physical consequences of the disease, so many people are living with scars on the inside. They may never know the true potential, joy and purpose God has for them because of all the noise made in their head by the eating disorder(ED) and the room it takes up in their lives. To me, this is the biggest tragedy. Many lose years and years of their lives to this disease and may never get help.
How can we be proactive? How can we as parents determine if our child or one of their friends is suffering and help them? Sometimes the answer is simple. Listen to the parenting instincts God has instilled in each of us. If we think there is a problem, there probably is. Don’t allow denial or your fear of confrontation or making them angry stop you from providing the help that is desperately needed.
The first signs of ED can be subtle. Something is a little different or off about my child lately. Pay attention! Don’t explain it away as nothing! Have their eating habits changed? Are the meals and snacks getting smaller and “healthier” (I hate that word but that is for another post!). They may be more secretive about what they are eating or want to eat alone. Pair this behavior with increased moodiness, isolation, anger, sadness or aggression and you have an obvious need to get involved. Sure, there may be many explanations for this behavior but ED is very good at jumping into a situation such as this and providing the coping mechanism your child is looking for. Talk to them and help them discover what is going on. It is likely they do not realize themselves what is happening inside their mind/body until it is too late and the eating disorder is entrenched.
Eating disorders wait for an opportune time in your child’s life to get in and provide the tool they are looking for to calm their anxiety. The teenage and young adult years provide many of these opportune situations. We are all familiar with the factors: confusion and sadness over friend relationships, challenges with schoolwork, struggling to excel at athletics, bodies growing and changing, and the ever swinging hormones. It is a lot! Combine these with the loads of other challenges they face and we can see there is much anxiety produced even if our child attempts to hide it. ED provides a way to deal with the anxiety. “I can control this,” they say, “This will make things better.” Little by little they take on these behaviors to calm the storm going on inside until ED takes over and has control over their life. ED is now all that matters, “How can I eat less today?”, “When will I get all my exercise in?”. Soon they can’t spend time with people or be involved in other things that take away from their time with ED. Of course, they will become angry if you try to get in the way of the ED behavior but that is exactly what you must do.
Talk to them about what you see happening. We have to give them a way to fight what is going on in their head. You may want to start with your family doctor even though we may feel that the weight is not yet at an alarming point. Depending on which ED behaviors are being used, weight may not be an issue even though the ED is taking over the mind and robbing you of your child. Talk to someone who has been through it or a counselor who can lead you in the right direction.
I am telling you, time is of the essence! The longer the behavior goes on and the more entrenched it becomes; the more difficult it is to fight. That is why I hate to see the denial at the beginning stages. Listen if someone is sharing a concern about your child! Step in; you cannot”make them worse” by getting involved despite what the ED which wants to take over is trying to tell you. Your child’s life, future and purpose depend on it.