Recognising Eating Disorders
In my recent post to acknowledge Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I introduced you to the concepts of body image and eating disorders, as well as what proactive steps you can take as parents to help prevent the development of an eating disorder in your child.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, eating disorders can and do occur. By nature, eating disorders are secretive and can be difficult to pick up on until your child is incredibly unwell.
Signs to be on the lookout for:
- Your child is engaging in dieting and/or sudden exclusion of food groups (including suddenly becoming vegetarian or vegan or developing a self-diagnosed ‘intolerance’).
- Finding evidence of bingeing (e.g., food disappearing from the fridge or pantry, empty wrappers in the bin/bedroom, etc.)
- Frequent bathroom visits during and after meals.
- Engaging in excessive or compulsive exercise (e.g., pushing themselves to exercise when sick or injured; feeling an obligation to exercise with little pleasure obtained).
- Avoiding social situations (especially related to eating, such as meals out or dinner with the family).
- Sudden interest in food preparation and planning (e.g., cooking, looking at recipes etc., although they may not consume the food themselves).
- Changes in how they dress (typically baggy/loose fitting clothing, even in warm weather).
- Denying they are hungry or eating very slowly.
- A distorted body image.
- Appearing highly anxious, moody, or irritable.
- Rapid weight change.
- Fatigue, including difficulties with concentration.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Cold sensitivity.
- Changes to their menstrual cycle (including periods stopping completely).
While it can be incredibly confronting, it is essential as a parent that you act as soon as possible. Your child’s brain and body may be experiencing starvation, meaning they are not able to make good choices for themselves.
What to do if you are concerned
- Complete the ‘Feed Your Instinct’ questionnaire. This is a great Australian resource which produces a report you can give to your GP, as well as giving you specific strategies to support your child.
- Visit your GP for a double appointment (ideally one experienced in working with young people). They should be checking your child’s pulse, blood pressure and running blood tests at a minimum (not just measuring their weight). They will identify your child’s medical risk and whether they are eligible for support under a Medicare Eating Disorder Management Plan or a Mental Health Care Plan.
- Eating Disorders Victoria and The Butterfly Foundation both run helplines to discuss your concerns and help you identify appropriate support options.
- Encourage your child to speak to their school counsellor/psychologist, or another mental health professional with training in eating disorders. This may include a professional who is ‘credentialed’ in eating disorders. See https://connected.anzaed.org.au/ for more information.
Olivia is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist who has worked in a range of settings, including schools, universities, the not-for-profit sector and private practice. She has substantial experience working with children, adolescents and their families, including completion of neurodevelopmental and learning assessments. Olivia has a special interest in eating disorders and is passionate about ensuring young people with this presentation receive appropriate and effective supports. Olivia strives to build warm and collaborative relationships with children, adolescents, parents and other professionals involved in a child’s life.