Tips for Parents
Recognizing Eating Disorders
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 22-28, 2009
As college students contend with new anxieties, emotions and stressors, they may turn to eating disorders as a way of regaining control. Knowing the signs and symptoms of the most common eating disorders and how to talk about body image issues can help you proactively address any potential concerns you may notice. Additional help is available both on and off campus, too.
Anorexia Nervosa Signs & Symptoms
- Resistance to maintaining a body weight that is at or above normal for age and height
- Intense fear of gaining weight and anxiety over being "fat," even if underweight
- Disturbance in how weight or body shape is experienced, overemphasis on weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstrual period)
Warning signs include: comments about being fat in spite of weight loss; refusal to eat certain foods or categories of food combined with food-related rituals; denial of hunger and excuse-making around situations involving food; and excessive and rigid exercise routines.
Bulimia Nervosa Signs & Symptoms
- Frequent intake of abnormally large quantities of food, coupled with a sense of loss of control over eating
- "Purging" behaviors after binges, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting and/or compulsive exercise
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
Warning signs include: swelling of the cheeks or jaw, stained teeth, and calluses on hands or knuckles from vomiting; evidence of binges such as the rapid disappearance of large amounts of food or many empty food packages; evidence of purging such as trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, empty laxative or diuretics packages; a rigid exercise routine even if sick or injured; complex schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions; and withdrawing from friends and activities.
Binge Eating Disorder (or Compulsive Overeating)
- Recurrent binge eating similar to bulimia without the compensatory measures to rid oneself of the food
- Extreme discomfort from consuming large quantities of food
- Avoidance of social activities that draw attention to one's body or involve food, or eating only small amounts around others
- History of cyclical dieting, depression and weight gain
How to Help
Many individuals go through periods of disordered eating in response to transition or stress; this doesn't necessarily indicate that an eating disorder exists. When eating or restricting patterns become a compulsive urge and interfere with health, social interactions and academic progress, it's likely an eating disorder has developed. At the heart of any eating disorder is a lack of emotional coping skills for dealing with stress, anxiety or trauma. The persons' relationship with food becomes their mechanism for coping and a way to manage or alter mood states.
If you suspect that your student has an eating disorder:
- Learn as much as you can about eating disorders.
- Develop a support network in which you can talk openly about your feelings and frustrations — and where you can develop a plan of action to help your student.
- Directly express concern; tell your student that you care and offer to help. Share details about behaviors you have noticed that concern you the most.
- Try to be objective and calm in discussing the behaviors that concern you. Avoid offering simple solutions – if it were that easy, there would not be a problem.
- Suggest that you and your student seek professional help from a physician and/or therapist.
- Avoid making comments about his or her appearance. Concern about weight loss may be interpreted as a compliment; comments about weight gain may be felt as criticism.
- Don't become involved in a power struggle. You can't force the person to eat. Offer continued support and refrain from judgment.
- Try to maintain as normal and healthy a lifestyle as possible.
- Do not blame yourself.
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