What are eating disorders?
Learn about eating disorders and what parents should watch out for.
What happens when a person’s relationship with food, weight or exercise becomes unhealthy? Dr. Lisa Damour, psychologist, mother and best-selling author, takes us through the causes of eating disorders and what parents can do to encourage a healthy food-body relationship with their children.
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Transcript of “What are eating disorders?” video
"Everyone eats in different ways.
Some days your child may be very hungry. The next day they may not be so hungry, or they may go through periods of liking and then disliking certain foods. All of this is to be expected.
There are times, however, when a child's relationship with food or weight can become unhealthy.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders occur when a person's relationship with food, weight or exercise becomes unhealthy.
There are lots of different kinds of eating disorders, but they tend to involve measuring one's self-worth in terms of one's weight or appearance or feeling anxious or uncomfortable around foods.
Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and shapes and sizes.
What causes eating disorders?
There are many things that can cause an unhealthy relationship with food. Sometimes children develop a problem with eating because they're worried or stressed about something going on in another aspect of their life.
Eating disorders can arise as a result of other mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression.
Usually, eating disorders are the result of a number of forces coming together, one of which can be genetics.
Eating disorders run in families and having a parent or a sibling who suffers from an eating disorder can increase the likelihood of developing an eating concern.
Regardless of the causes, struggling with eating or weight concerns is never the fault of the person going through it, and anyone who is having difficulty around food or weight deserves to get better.
What should parents watch out for?
Catching eating disorders early can make them easier to treat.
Notice if your child starts counting calories, skipping meals, becoming secretive about food, dropping entire food categories or exercising obsessively.
It is also important to pay attention if your child starts to express a lot of anxiety about eating, or expresses feeling unhappy or uncomfortable with their body, their weight, or their appearance.
Keep an eye on the media that your child is exposed to. Research shows that spending a lot of time looking at images that promote ultra-fit or ultra-thin ideals can cause kids to feel worse about their bodies and can contribute to the development of eating disorders.
If you are concerned that your child has developed an unhealthy relationship with food, seek help from a health professional.
To share your concerns with your child, consider saying: "Eating well and enjoying food is an important part of how we take care of ourselves. I'm worried that you're not taking good enough care of yourself, so we're going to get some help.”
How can parents encourage a healthy relationship with food and body?
There are many things you can do to promote a healthy relationship for your child with food, eating and weight.
When talking about food, steer clear of talking about foods as being either good or bad, and focus instead on having your child enjoy food that tastes delicious and provides a wide range of nutrients.
Emphasize to your child that eating well is an important part of how we stay healthy and have plenty of energy. This means listening to our bodies and eating when we're hungry and paying attention to signs that we're starting to feel full.
Another thing you can do is make exercise an enjoyable part of family life. Take hikes as a family, find games you enjoy, and play those together in a way that makes physical activity fun.
And take good care of yourself!
Handling your own feelings well and modeling a healthy relationship with food and exercise is one of the most important things you can do to promote your child's mental health."
Dr. Lisa Damour is a psychologist, author, New York Times contributor and mother of two.