How to Tell if Somebody You Know Has an Eating Disorder

Caitlin is a 16-year-old from Simsbury, CT. She likes to write, make things with clay, and really wants a dog. Her two favorite subjects are Art and English.

The symptoms of having an eating disorder might sound simple enough: losing weight rapidly, becoming less social, wearing baggy clothes, and hiding food. These signs, however, are not easy to notice and the absence of some of these signs does not mean that your child is not afflicted by an eating disorder.

When I was 13, I thought that losing weight could solve all of my problems. After all, the popular girls were thin and they were happy. They had boyfriends and nice clothes. I attributed all of these wonderful things to their weight and figured that, with diligence and persistence, I too could be popular. I too could be perfect.

While these thoughts do not make sense, they are common in a lot of pre-teens and teenagers. As teenage bodies change, weights fluctuate and leave hipbones and knobby knees covered in new curves. These new bodies contrast greatly with the rail-thin models seen on runways and even with other classmates who’s bodies have not yet matured.

My body was one of those that matured fast. I found myself surrounded by girls who did not know that there were pants larger than a size zero, and I felt insecure that I could not relate.

I resorted to changing my diet and started to exercise more consistently. While this can be done in a healthy way, I limited my calories drastically under the recommended amount and started to hide food that I didn’t want to consume. I tracked every calorie religiously and became panicked when a “forbidden food” was placed in front of me to eat.

While this was happening, I did not know I was developing distorted eating and neither did my parents. They thought that I was starting healthier habits.

Over time, my weight became so low that they couldn’t help but notice that something was not right. I didn’t like to eat in front of people, and when I did I had to cut my food into tiny pieces so that it would take me longer to finish. They started to notice napkins in the garbage filled with remains of dinner. My clothes began to sag off of me, and my body started to return to a pre-pubescent state.

These are all signs that someone is developing anorexia, yet the people afflicted with the disorder know how to hide these habits so that others do not suspect anything.

Anorexia is not the only eating disorder, and it is one of the only ones that can be spotted by excessive weight loss. The most common eating disorder in America is compulsive overeating, or binge eating. This is very different than anorexia as, instead of the enemy, food is viewed as a friend, a dangerous friend. “Binges” are defined as short periods of time in which an abnormally large amount of food is consumed in private, usually followed by extreme guilt. Sometimes purging or exercising until all remains of food are gone may follow these binges. These latter instances are examples of bulimia and compulsive exercising.

The one thing that anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and compulsive exercising have in common is that all of these disorders feed on insecurity. They are also “lonely” disorders because it is hard to hide these habits when faced with a birthday party or sleepover, thus solitude is preferred.

If these disorders are not caught, they can lead to severe health complications and possibly death. Depression is also common, as are thoughts of suicide. Anorexia has a death rate of 12 times greater than any other mental disorder.

To get over my illness, my parents had me see a therapist, a nutritionist, and a doctor to check my weight. While all three of these might not be necessary for treatment, having someone who has experience with eating disorders to talk with is helpful. The one action that is necessary is to address the problem. If the eating disorder goes on for too long, than the person is at a higher risk for health complications, and will also face a harder recovery process. The best thing you can do for someone suffering is to talk to them and get them help.

For more information on eating disorders and treatment, you can visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org


Picky (Teen) Eaters

So you were hoping the picky eater would grow up by now, right?  Many picky toddlers and kids do grow out of their aversion to anything green/healthy/fluffy/creamy by age 10 or 11, but not always.  Recently, I have stumbled upon more and more families who have increasingly intense fights during meals because of stubborn teen eaters.

1) Make sure it is not about being heard

At least once per week there is a battle over dinner in the Greyson household.  The daughter (14) hates pasta with peas.  The brother likes it. The mom thinks it is easy to make and has protein, carbs and veggies.  When Mom inevitably makes it for dinner, daughter blows up and refuses to eat anything.  Mom feels underappreciated and yells, “This is not a restaurant and I am not your personal chef!” The daughter gets punished and eats nothing for dinner. The night is ruined.  While working with the family I talked to the daughter about her strong disgust of pasta with peas. Instead of talking about how revolting she finds the dish, she instead shared her feeling that her mom makes the dinner when she is trying to be punishing. “If she knows I hate it so much, why would she make it?” I realized this was about her being heard and listened to, not really about the actual meal.  I explained this to the mom and then also explained to the daughter…

2) How difficult dinner can be

She had heard her mom vent about making dinner after a long day, but had not truly sat down and thought about all of the ingredients, timing the meal, making it balanced and pleasing everyone.  The mom and daughter struck a deal. No pasta with peas if she made dinner once per week.  This taught her exactly how hard dinner was and it gave mom a break.  It also….

3) Let them take ownership

Picky eaters who are older often have control issues with food.  It is true they might have a limited palate and truly do find certain foods indigestible, but more likely is they want to be in control of what they are eating and when.  Unfortunately, living at home and being a minor makes this a bit more difficult.  Yet, I have found with the picky eaters I have worked with that giving them ownership of their meal times really helps them eat.  This can be cooking a meal like above.  It can also be doing meal planning at the beginning of the week, going grocery shopping on their own or with a parent to pick out food for the house.

4) Vegetarian and vegans

When my sister went veggie, the house went under.  There was a time (maybe still) where my poor mother had to make gluten-free meals for my dad and I, veggie meals for my middle sister, meat heavy meals for my brother and cheesy meals for my youngest sister.  Even when she ignored personal preference (my sister likes cheese, my brother likes meat and potatoes) we still had dietary concerns that she had to cook for.  Many teens are now going vegetarian and vegan despite being raised in a meat loving family.  I am lumping this with picky eaters because it causes the same kinds of issues–mom feeling underappreciated, kids under-eating or eating badly and dinnertime disarray.  I think it is extremely important for vegetarians to take ownership in their meals and let them see how their decision (it is their right to decide what goes in their body) affects everyone (see tips above).

5) The 15 times rule

They say that if you try something 15 times you will begin to like it.  I think this is true with a slight amendment.  I do not like fennel, but I have eaten it 15 times and now I can stand it.  I still do not like it.  Make a deal with your picky eater that they at least have to try a bite of everything you make to be able to stick with their staples.  This expands their palate slowly.

It is completely normal to have a older picky eater.  With patience, their palates will mature and they will pick food not to be picky, but because they enjoy it and it is healthy.