I actively suffered from eating disorders for eight years. What could have been considered the best years of my life were ruined by the fact that I was slowly killing myself.
I have been recovered now for almost 15 years. Maybe I should say I have been recovering for 15 years because, as anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder knows, you are in recovery every day for the rest of your life. You have to make a choice to not be disordered. It’s similar to how alcoholics have to choose every day for the rest of their life not to take a drink.
This is something that I wish on no one else. I hate that I know eating disorders so intimately. They were once my only trusted companions. My goal in life is to make sure that my girls never go through that, and if I have it my way, none of your children do either.
We may not be able to completely prevent our kids from falling prey to such afflictions. But I can help you recognize some of the signs that your child may be suffering from eating disorders from the perspective of a child who has suffered. These are signs that only a person who has had disordered eating would even know to look for, aside from the obvious clues like not eating at all or eating far too much.
Working out excessively when no one is paying attention
Working out more than once a day.
Working out for longer than 2 hours.
Getting involved in many different sports or athletic activities.
Running the faucet to mask the sound of vomit hitting the bowl.
Unexplained cuts on top of hand.
Taking a shower immediately after eating to vomit when no one is paying attention.
Excessively brushing teeth: We try to mask the smell of vomit by brushing immediately after we eat. Of course, brushing after vomiting is the worst thing you can do for your teeth.
Eating only soft foods to avoid choking: Pizza is a choking hazard and so are most meats.
Avoiding spicy foods: You learn very quickly what foods burn coming back up. I know it’s gross that I know this but I do.
Avoiding foods that are acidic: Ketchup and buffalo sauces are the worst.
Using smaller plates.
Moving food around plate, playing with food but seldom putting any in mouth.
Not eating anything all day and then eating an extreme amount.
Wearing baggy clothes: I always wore baggy clothes for a couple reasons. 1) I knew that what I was doing was wrong and my parents would figure it out if they saw my bones protruding. 2) I hated tight clothing. I hated the feeling of it against my body. It only served to remind me of my flaws.
Always saying they need to lose five more pounds: I’ve never met a person with an eating disorder who thinks they are at their ideal weight. It's a moving target. Just when we get to our perfect weight, we look in the mirror and realize we can afford to lose 5 more pounds. We always think we are fat. You cannot tell us otherwise. We won’t believe you.
Spending a lot of time alone: I loved being alone because I could hide what I was doing and not have to be inconvenienced by having to try to lie to anyone.
Acting very meticulous and methodical about eating: what they eat, when they eat, how much they eat, what kinds of foods they eat, where they eat, who they eat with. We know everything that goes in our mouth will end up as fat. That's how we think. We weigh every option in our mind before we ever take a bite. I can’t tell you how many times I avoided my favorite foods because it was simply not worth the extra time and effort that I would have to expend to burn those calories. I‘d prefer to just restrict myself.
Passing out or being excessively tired.
Always finding an excuse to leave the table early or eat out of sight.
Being a perfectionist: I was the straight A student who wanted everything to be perfect always, and when it wasn’t, I needed to control the chaos. As an adolescent, sometimes the only thing that you truly control is what you consume. Eating was the one thing that I was always in control of.
Know this: I was very lucky. I survived to tell others. Not everyone does. If you see these behaviors in any of your children, keep an eye on them. They may be headed for trouble.
Do you have any experience with eating disorders?
Image via Charlotte Astrid/Flickr