Preventing Eating Disorders

It's National Eating Disorders Awareness week and we were joined by Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Jordann Kearns.  She shared important information on how to spot and eating disorder and the common mistakes parents might be making everyday.

How would we know that our child is struggling with an eating disorder?

Some signs and symptoms of eating disorders can be any of the following:

  • Eating tiny portions or refusing to eat
  • Intense fear of being fat
  • Distorted body image
  • Strenuous exercising (for more than an hour)
  • Hoarding and hiding food or eating in secret
  • Disappearing after eating—often to the bathroom
  • Large changes in weight, both up and down
  • Social withdrawal especially when the social events revolve around food.

Eating disorders, or any type of disordered eating, can be hard to detect because many of the precursors to eating disorders such as dieting, compensatory exercise and even "eating healthy" are commonly accepted as healthy or normal in our culture instead of the "gateway drug" to disordered eating.
 
Is there any one thing that will tell us parents 100% that our kid has an eating disorder?
If you have evidence that your child is throwing up after eating, or if they have experienced weight loss without some other medical reason, you may want to schedule an appointment with a specialist for an eating disorder assessment. 

For a list of professionals that can help in this area, click here.
 
When we talk about prevention from a nutrition standpoint, we want our children to grow up with a healthy relationship with food.  We don’t want to interfere with a child’s trust in their internal hunger, appetite and satiety cues.   As children, they are- what we call- intuitive eaters.   Children are born with the ability to tell when they are hungry and when they’ve had enough.  We want to protect this ability.
 
Parents can make a few mistakes that affect a child’s relationship with food:
 
Mistake #1 --  Misinterpreting a child’s normal weight:  some children are built bigger, some are built smaller.  It’s important that a child- especially a child who is naturally bigger- receives the message that they are loved – no matter what.  Not once they lose weight, not once they start eating “healthy” but right now…  today.

Children who get the message that they are too fat feel flawed in every way, not smart, not physically capable, not worthy.  They tend to diet, gain weight, and weigh more than they would otherwise.
 
Mistake #2 --  Restricting a child’s food or  pressuring a child to eat when he/she refuses food:  Often, in an effort to deal with our own anxiety about food and weight, parents try to overcontrol what their child eats.  They might believe restricting foods certain foods will help them in the long run.  We have all kinds of research that shows that foods need to be presented in a neutral manner.  Avoid labels like “good” and “bad”  Or even, “once you eat the peas, you can have the dessert”. 
 
This is where the Division of Responsibility comes in.  The parents select the foods that are offered, the time & location of the meal or snack, and work to keep the atmosphere pleasant.
 
The child is in control of what and how much they eat.
 
Your positive feelings about food and eating will do more for your health than adhering to a set of rules about what to eat and what not to eat.

"Provide, don’t deprive, then trust your child to grow up to be the size and shape that is right for him or her."
 
Mistake #3 --  Openly discussing calories & weight with kids:  Children don’t need to know about calories or how calories affect weight.  Children need to know that they are allowed to enjoy food, that food can help us grow into strong adults, that mealtimes are a time for the family to connect, and that food can satisfy us when we feel hungry. 
 
Mistake #5 --   Using food as a calming agent:  With children, you want to avoid the- “You’re feeling sad, let’s go have some ice cream.”  Not that ice cream is bad, but you want to help children to use food to satisfy hunger, not emotions.
 
What is your best advice for parents on how to prevent eating disorders?

  • Allow your child to develop a healthy relationship with food.
  • Adopt a weight neutral stance in your home even if your child's body size, shape, or weight is triggering to you.
  • Openly discuss dieting as a problem and discontinue fat talk in the household
  • Remind your children of all that they are.
  • Build resiliency in children for the times they don't fit in.

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