Kindergartners With Anorexia? Sad, But True

Horrifying 8

lunchAt some point, many moms will have to broach the subject of eating disorders with their daughters. With so much pressure to be thin, our girls sometimes go to unhealthy lengths to fit that model-like ideal. It's just an awful fact of adolescence -- or so I thought. Turns out, the issue is affecting a younger and younger group. Doctors report that anorexia is being diagnosed in girls as early as kindergarten. Absolutely frightening.

One particular little story featured on ABCNews.com is especially heartbreaking. Anne had no idea anything was wrong with her daughter until the night 7-year-old Sophie uttered these terrifying words:

Mommy, I have a problem. I am hungry all the time and I can't eat. A voice in my head is telling me not to eat.

Simply disturbing, not to mention shocking because Sophie always fell in an acceptable weight range on the growth chart. But what Anne soon discovered was that her child had been starving herself since kindergarten. It began slowly. First she gave up desserts and candy, then ate smaller and smaller amounts of food, and she exercised compulsively on the monkey bars. Eventually, she started throwing out her school snacks and lunches altogether. By the time she was diagnosed, she hadn't gained a pound in almost a year.

The thing that may have set it off? She remembers a teacher telling her she had to eat healthy. That, says her mother, was enough for a kid like Sophie who "reads between the lines" and who is a perfectionist and anxious kid. The experts claim that eating disorders are not caused by the media or pressure to be thin, but I don't know if I believe that. I think it certainly contributes to the epidemic of poor body image in kids and adults.

As a parent, it's hard to imagine someone so young doing this. Many of us deal with picky, bird-like eaters, and that is worrisome enough, but anorexia in a kindergartner is beyond scary. But as stunned as I am, I can see how this happens to our kids. Women constantly obsess about their size -- I know I do. I am forever trying some new diet or fitness regimen. And I don't even know how many times I've lamented (out loud) about wishing I was back to my pre-baby weight. Then there are all those images we are bombarded with -- stick thin actresses of all ages, fat jokes on TV. We adults aren't the only ones paying attention. Our little girls are too. How could this not affect them in some way? While most won't develop eating disorders, the fact that there are some that do so young should alarm us all.

How can we prevent young children from developing eating disorders?


Image via anotherlunch.com/Flickr

kid health, kindergarten

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adrin... adriness666

Media isn't to blame. My eating disorder began at a young age too. I've been described as a perfectionist and anal person. Personality and vulnerability can trigger this disorder.

LuvMy... LuvMyDandD

Our little girls aren't the only ones paying attention. Our boys are too. 

nonmember avatar Sarah

Please don't spread misinformation, like the idea that the media causes EDs. They are biologically based brain disorders that have nothing to do with wanting to look like a model. Do your research.

SuzyB... SuzyBarno

Being a person who suffered from anorexia for years I feel like we are walking a tight rope with our young ones. I now have a son and daughter, who are 1 and 3, so I haven't even gotten into eating disorders. But kindergarten is right around the corner. I think the best thing My husband and I can do is set a good example. We eat healthfully all the time, the kids get fast food once a week and we all exercise normally. I am a runner as run 4 times a week and my husband runs and plays tennis and softball. My daughter does dance 1 day a week. We all sit together to eat and we have now have no punishment for not eating. I try not to give too much attention to how much my kids eat. I always make sure I serve at least 1 thing they like and then ignore it all together. We used to send our daughter to bed for not eating but we have since changed our minds, we think that could do more damage. We just figure kids will eat if they are hungry. I don't know, I hope what we are doing is right. Again, I feel like I am walking a tight rope. Of course we want to encourage our kids to eat healthy but we want them to be relaxed about it enough to not get over compulsive about it.

redK8... redK8blueSt8

I don't think this is saying that media is to blame for eating disorders, but it absolutely is responsible for promoting them by promoting an unrealistic body ideal. From birth kids are shown images of what is "normal" in bodies, and they're not normal, they're airbrushed, or starved to achieve!  Eating disorders have deep psychological roots, but the media waters that creeping infiltrating weed to grow.

nonmember avatar kaerae

The media doesn't cause EDs, controlling every bite of food your kid eats does. Are you listening, Kate?

nonmember avatar Meika Jay

This is sad as stated. I actually have an opposite issue my tween princess just reminded me before school this morning that it is Whopper Wedsday and I take full responsibility for it. The local Burger King has Whoppers 2 for $3 every Wed. I cook and prepare healthy meals often. It needs to and should be everyday, that I cook healthy meals. She will eat vegetables though. Broccoli is her favorite.

nonmember avatar Anne

I am "Anne", Sophie's mom. Yes, Sophie's explanation of why she started restricting her eating was that the teacher told her to "eat healthy." But, I don't think this teacher caused her eating disorder. Sophie clearly has a very strong biological predisposition. If she hadn't gotten anorexia in early elementary school, I still think she would have gotten sick at some point.

Thank you for spreading the word! BTW, as I type this, Sophie is happily eating a slice of Hawaiian Pizza and drinking a glass of whole milk (chocolate milk). Today when she got off the bus, she said, "Mom, I'm eating lunch faster! I had time to talk to my friends." She is doing great. There is absolutely a strong hope for recovery for parents who discover the problem and support nutrition at home using the "magic plate" technique and other methods of supported and orderly eating.

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