At 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