Moms Matter

7 Truths About Eating Disorders Every Parent Needs to Know

Health Check 4

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All right, parents, it's time to talk about something no Mom or Dad really wants to face. Does your kid have an eating disorder? Are you sure?

Turns out the median onset for most eating disorders is around 12 or 13 years old. Been awhile since you took a math class? Median is a number right in the middle. In other words, there are plenty of kids starting even YOUNGER than the teen years.

Still positive your kid doesn't have an eating disorder? Yeah, that's what my parents thought too ... up until the day I came home from college and confessed I'd been bulimic for the past three years and they never knew. Fast forward more than a decade, and now I'm a mother who is determined not to let all the myths about eating disorders get in my way.

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week -- and because I don't want your kid to go through what I went through -- here's a look at the most prevalent myths out there. Trust me, you can't afford to believe any of them:

More from The Stir: Kindergartners With Anorexia? Sad, But True

1. Only girls have eating disorders. Although it's true that disordered eating is seen more with females, boys can most certainly be affected as well. An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder. However, boys are less likely to talk about being "fat." He may, but a more likely sign is a son who is very suddenly becoming a "picky" eater.

2. If they're eating well, they don't have an eating disorder. Some kids cut foods out of their diet. Other kids eat a normal diet or even overeat, then they head to the bathroom to throw it all up (bulimics) or head to the gym to exercise themselves to exhaustion (also known as exercise bulimia). And then there's binge eating disorder, which involves overeating with no intention to lose weight, which leads us to ...

3. You have to be skinny to have an eating disorder. It all starts somewhere, folks, and a kid who is overweight can most definitely have an eating disorder -- maybe they're just not showing signs of having lost the weight yet. And while we're on the topic, not all people with an eating disorder are expressly trying to lose weight. Overeating in and of itself is disordered eating.

4. Eating disorders are only a problem when your kid's weight drops to an unhealthy level. Again, not true. Someone with binge eating disorder exposes themselves to all the dangers of obesity, from type 2 diabetes to heart problems and more. On the other end, someone with anorexia or bulimia is likely not supplying the body with enough calories to sustain itself. Bulimics also do severe damage to their teeth, esophagus, and other parts of the body with their frequent vomiting.

5. Eating disorders are all about food. Yes and no. An exercise bulimic may eat a healthy amount of food, but their obsession with exercising at all costs to work that food off their body represents the real danger to the body.

6. You can only have one eating disorder. People with one disorder often cross lines. For example, about 50 percent of people who have had anorexia develop bulimia or bulimic patterns.

7. Eating disorders are all about weight. Although the number on the scale may be the focus for kids with eating disorders, the real trigger runs much deeper. There are a variety of physical, emotional, and social causes of eating disorders. In fact, almost 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the official criteria for depression.

Have you evaluated your child for an eating disorder? What surprises you about this list?

 

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UKFan136 UKFan136

Thank goodness for this list!  I'm almost 31 & still suffer from eating disorders. I'm overweight, I eat a normal diet, but I'm bulimic all the same. Eating disorders are almost always about control: feeling out of control in other areas of your life but trying to control something that no one else can have control of (like your weight/food intake.)

Tanya Marie Buentello

Oh my goodness, thank you so much for posting this. My Five year old Son was diagnosed as anorexic. He has severe allergies and has always been afraid to eat when other people or friends try to give him food. It has has become such a problem when trying to explain to others, because it is seen as a teen-age girl problem. Eating disorders happen to anyone of any age.

Felly... FellyScarlett

I used to be a binge eater. Nobody ever talks about that one.

nonmember avatar Anne

Great job on this blog entry! Yes, eating disorders start somewhere, and kids who are within "normal" weight/height limits can have them. My daughter's weight was "normal" on the chart, but was not normal for HER. She has a lot of muscle mass and needs to be a high weight percentile for her height. And, she ate pretty normally in front of us parents, but was throwing away food at school, resulting in a calorie deficit. Who knew? I think one absolute key to helping kids with eating disorders is having an open relationship where the child sees mom and/or dad as a resource in helping to solve problems. I often would tell Sophie that she can always tell me her problems and I will never get mad, no matter what it is. I did this because she is such an anxious kid. She's always worried about getting in trouble. Later, when I asked "why did you tell me?" she said, "It was a hard problem that I couldn't fix myself, and I knew you could help me." That is a HUGE blessing, and allowed us to step in and help her quickly.

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