Eating Disorders in Pre-Teens & Teens

The Problem
Reports indicate that children as young as 5 years old are becoming concerned, even obsessed, with their weight and shape. Indeed, eating disorders and significantly disordered eating attitudes and behaviors are appearing in pre-teens and teens at an increasing rate. At the same time obesity rates for these age-groups are up. An estimated 1 in 5 children is considered overweight, with obesity being the No 1. health problem among America’s kids.

What are the causes of increased eating disorders and obesity?
Technically, we don’t know, although some of the contributory causes seem pretty obvious.

  • Increased exposure to TV commercials
    Children are exposed to more commercials for junk food and more ‘super-thin’ images and characters. They are being encouraged to eat high fat food and be thin – both at the same time!
  • Glossy magazines still utilize abnormally thin fashion models
    The message is clear: “thin is beautiful”.
  • Lack of parental control, guidance and example
    When Mom and Dad are fat and/or constantly dieting or using laxatives, diet pills and so on, it’s difficult for teens to avoid copying their parents bad eating and dieting habits.
  • Affluence and family fragmentation
    More Moms and Dads are working. More kids eat and/or watch TV in their own rooms. More kids go away to college. These factors only serve to diminish parental control over their kids eating habits. They may even weaken relationships between parent and child and may indirectly lead to increased psychological stress which is an important underlying cause of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

Family eating disorders or abnormal attitudes to weight loss and diet
Ask yourself these questions:

Q. Is your child limiting her/his food intake?
Q. Is your child losing weight?
Q. Is your child claiming unreasonably that she/he is too fat?
Q. Is she talking about dieting and focusing on calories and fat?
Q. Is your child becoming obsessed with exercise?
Q. Is your child part of a family with a history of eating disorders?
Q. Has your child started to vomit regularly?

If your child has two or more of these symptoms, you should seek medical help.

Medical care for eating disorders
To begin with, your child will undergo a medical and psychological examination. This will determine if there is something to be concerned about, and if so what course of treatment or steps are required.

Treatment for eating disorders
Typically, this involves four things: Psychotherapy, Clinical Care, Nutrition Counseling, Family Support.

Psychotherapy for eating disorders
During psychotherapy, the child learns what triggers their reaction to food and how to control their eating disorder.

Clinical care for eating disorders
Your health care providers help to stabilize your child’s clinical symptoms (if any) like malnutrition, extreme weight loss, damage due to vomiting etc. and if necessary may provide medication to help control depression.

Nutritional counseling for eating disorders
During nutrition counseling, your child learns proper eating habits and is given an eating plan or menu.

Family support for eating disorders
No matter how serious the eating disorder, no cure is complete without family involvement and support. This is essential to assist the child and reduce the chance of a relapse or return to the original disordered patterns of eating. Parents and other family members may receive counseling and support from the health services and may be referrred to specific eating-disorder support groups.

How to avoid eating disorders in your children

Whether or not your child has started to develop symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, it is a good idea to take precautions to reduce the risk of any eating disorders developing.

Set a good example
To help your children, first change your own habits.
For example:

  • Are you always dieting?
  • Do you talk constantly about losing weight?
  • Do you habitually use diet pills, laxatives, or other diuretics for weight control purposes?
  • Do you regularly resort to food in order to manage stress?
  • Do you regularly serve junk food to your children?
  • Do you tease or criticize your children because you think they are too fat or too thin?

If so, you should consider changing these bad habits and start setting a good example. If you are unsure about what to do, see your health care provider and ask to be referred to a registered dietician.

By setting a good example, you automatically encourage your children to adopt the sort of balanced eating attitudes and habits that will help them to achieve optimum health and happiness.

How to prevent obesity in your children

Obesity is the No 1. health problem among America’s kids. Severely overweight children are at greater risk for early development of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as certain types of cancers. Experts believe that successful weight loss requires a family commitment, with both parents and children addressing lifestyle modification, nutrition and physical issues.

Sadly, many parents assume that children should not have any restrictions on their fat intake, for fear that they won’t get enough nutrients for their growing bodies. This is not true. Once children escape infancy, what they eat in their early years is a significant factor in determining how successful they are in controlling their weight in adulthood.

10 ways to protect your children from obesity

  • Set your kids a good example.
    This is the most important anti-obesity rule of all.
  • Don’t worry so much about the number of calories they consume in a day.
    Children need quite a lot of calories to fuel their high energy levels and growing bodies. The important thing is where these calories come from.
  • No more than 30 percent of their calories should come from fat.
    The less saturated (animal) fat, the better. So start reading labels.
  • The family diet should consist mostly of complex carbohydrates.
    Fruit, vegetables, wholemeal or wholegrain breads and cereals are great sources.
  • Serve them a balanced diet.
    Be creative with vegetables and serve them regularly to your kids from the earliest age onwards.
  • Teach them low-fat eating habits.
    Serve them cooked potatoes without butter! Get them accustomed to skim or 1 percent milk.
  • Avoid fast food restaurants, except on rare occasions!
    Many fast food meals are high fat, high calorie and nutritionally inadequate.
  • Encourage them to drink regular water.
    Once they get used to it, kids love water. It’s great for a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Keep them active!
    Don’t just order them outside. If possible, go with them! Get them to stay fit and increase your fitness in the process.