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I admit it, I have not read “The Hunger Games,” but between the title and its immense popularity with young teenage girls, I could not help but think of the millions of young people who struggle in real-life hunger games: eating disorders. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, approximately 2.7 percent of all 13 to 18 year olds suffer from a severe eating disorder. Individuals battling these destructive disorders are literally dying to be thin and are affected across many aspects of functioning: physical, social, emotional, occupational, and school, and are these disorders are often fatal.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (2008), eating disorders include two specific diagnoses, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th ed., Text Revision, p. 583). But then, you probably already knew this, and you probably also know that anorexia nervosa is characterized by the refusal to maintain a minimally healthy body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and significant disturbances in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body. You also are probably already aware that bulimia nervosa, is characterized by binge eating and inappropriate compensatory methods to prevent weight gain.
However, here are some scary truths you may not know about these deadly disorders:
A commonly held, but deadly, misconception about eating disorders is that you have to be extremely underweight to have an eating disorder or to be in danger. This is untrue, and I call it a deadly misconception for two reasons:
1. As outline above, many of the dangers associated with eating disorders have nothing to do with current body weight.
2. Eating disorders are psychiatric disorders that ALWAYS warrant intervention, and it is NEVER healthy (physically or psychologically) to employ such methods to control weight – even if the individual is overweight. Once these behaviors begin, individuals do immediate harm to their bodies and also risk forming addictive habits.
The sad truth is that many individuals who develop eating disorders in adolescence and young adulthood will continue on a chronic and destructive path for years, if not the rest of their lives, however shortened they may become.
To combat eating disorders in our children, we must employ two major strategies: prevention and immediate intervention. We can prevent or at least decrease the likelihood that our children will develop an eating disorder by promoting within them, a healthy self-esteem and body image and good eating habits from an early age. I know, I know, easier said than done! A healthy self/body image is not an easy thing to foster within our children, especially in a world where idealized images flood the media. As parents, we must be defensive and proactive; here are a few tips for promoting healthy body image and eating habits:
Unfortunately, prevention strategies are not always effective. In these cases, we have to turn to the next best thing: immediate intervention. The moment you notice behaviors suggestive of negative body image or eating disorders in your child, you should step in. Below are some behaviors to watch for:
Should you observe the above behaviors in your child, the time to act is now. Confront your child with love and understanding. Treatment of eating disorders almost always requires professional intervention to ensure physical and psychological health. To determine a treatment plan you may first want to consult with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician for a complete physical check-up, and then he/she will probably be able to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further treatment.
Talor Trenchard, a Paris, Texas native and happily married mother of two, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied psychology. She works as a licensed psychological associate therapist at The Child and Family Guidance Center of Texoma (www.cfgcenter.org) in Sherman, Texas. Talor is trained in psychological and neuropsychological evaluations and assessments and specializes in cognitive, achievement, and personality assessments. She has experience diagnosing and working with individuals with a variety of psychological conditions including but not limited to, ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.