What Parents Need to Know

What Parents Need to Know About Anorexia

Information that assists parents in the identification of anorexia can help stop lifelong health problems in their teenage daughters or even sons before they start. Untreated anorexia can be deadly – eating disorders are the most deadly of all psychological issues, and getting your teen enrolled in an anorexia treatment program can help him or her to avoid the myriad risks that come when the disorder goes untreated.

About one percent of women experience issues with eating disorders at some point in their lives and the majority of these problems occur during the teen and early adult years. It is estimated that one in every 100 girls suffers from an eating disorder like anorexia. Young women in America are at the highest risk for developing anorexia than any other group. The majority of girls, teens and young adult females developing anorexia are between ages of 12 and 25 years old. About 95 percent of those living with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa are female, but five percent are men who struggle with the same issues, especially boys involved in sports like wrestling where weight is an issue. The reasons behind the weight issue may be different, but the result and the anorexia treatment options are the same.

There are so many social pressures put upon young girls, especially during the teenage years. Society has created unrealistic body images for our female youth to look up to and admire. Ultra-thin is the body type being sold to our young women as “beautiful” and “ideal,” no matter how unnatural that shape may be for the majority of women in the US. The stress to be accepted socially can drive some teen girls to take radical measures to strive for not just unhealthy but potentially deadly goals for their body.

How Anorexia Begins

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Anorexia starts with a diet. When dieting works, many young women and fewer young men feel a sense of mastery and control in their lives. No matter else happens, they can change the shape and weight of their body by limiting their food intake. Becoming thinner is often secondary to maintaining that perception of control, and many restrict their eating not only by eating small amounts of food but by using laxatives, diet pills, stimulant drugs, enemas and diuretics.

Signs

If parents only see the occasional use of laxatives or limited eating at dinner, they may not realize the extent of the issue at first. But as their teen begins to lose dramatic amounts of weight or continues to remain underweight, it’s important to take notice of the details. Combination of the following signs and symptoms can indicate anorexia nervosa:

  • Severely limited eating. Those struggling with anorexia may skip meals, eat small meals, cut out whole food groups or subsist on diet shakes, bars or smoothies.
  • Use of laxatives, enemas and diuretics. Taking pills or using enemas to lose water weight on a regular basis can be dangerous and a sign that something more serious is happening.
  • Use of diet pills and stimulant drugs. Attempting to speed up metabolism artificially using pills can start a vicious cycle. Stopping the pills will always mean a drop in metabolism and weight gain, so most living with anorexia who go this route will increase their dose when they develop a tolerance rather than stop using the medication.
  • Excessive exercise. In order to burn more calories, many teen girls will spend a great deal of time on cardio exercise equipment, at the gym or running.
  • An obsession with weight loss. If your daughter spends a lot of time in front of the mirror and refuses to eat certain things because she is “too fat” though she is clearly underweight, it is a sign of anorexia.

Parents and Anorexia Help Guide

Getting Past Denial

If you recognize the above signs in your daughter or son, do not wait to get her the help they need. Many parents don’t want to believe their daughter or son has developed anorexia, instead choosing to believe “it’s a phase” or “she’ll grow out of it.” Others think that it’s best to wait until they comes to them with the problem. These are dangerous risks to take with your child’s health.

The fact is that if your child is battling anorexia, especially if she is in denial of the problem, he or she will not be able to stop on their own. The earlier they receive an intervention, the better the chances for long-term recovery and the less damage to a young girl or boy’s developing body from caloric restriction. The scary truth is that 20 percent of women with anorexia will die if the disorder goes untreated for too long, and those who survive can suffer life-long devastating health consequences.

Talking to Your Child

Telling your teen to start eating or to stop using weight loss tools is pointless when anorexia nervosa is an issue. Real mental health treatment and, in many cases, hospitalization is necessary. When malnutrition is an issue, a weight gain of one to three pounds per week is safe and sustainable. When organ damage is a result of that malnutrition, hospitalization is necessary prior to inpatient anorexia treatment.

Having discussions with your teen surrounding emotionally charged topics can be difficult. Don’t let anger or sadness stop you from having this necessary conversation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you start the process of getting your daughter the treatment she needs:

Plan of Action:

  • Do Your Homework. Learn a bit about anorexia before confronting your daughter. The knowledge can help you know how to guide the discussion.
  • Don’t Accuse. Open the talk by asking your daughter if she has a problem with anorexia rather than accusing her of it. Whether she admits to it or not, this sets a tone for a dialogue rather than a debate.
  • Remember Compassion. Your daughter is likely struggling with a lot of guilt and shame surrounding her anorexia, so criticism of her behavior is the wrong approach. Instead, let her know she has your constant support to get the help she needs.
  • Focus on Behavior. Don’t tell your daughter she’s “too skinny.” Statements such as these may be interpreted as positive in the mind of someone trying to look thin. Instead of talking about her appearance, discuss the behaviors you see her engaging in that are causing you concern.
  • Act. The goal of your discussion is to determine how much help your daughter needs. Once you have an idea of where she is with her own anorexia, you can better help her in finding the most appropriate treatment to fit her needs.

Don’t Rush Treatment

It’s important to take anorexia treatment slowly and not rush the process of healing for those who have been living with anorexia for a long period time. It’s important to avoid the risk of feeling overwhelmed or tempted to “cheat” and begin to use weight loss products again or overly limit their diet. Inpatient anorexia treatment is usually recommended for the most serious cases.

Family therapy is almost always recommended for teens struggling with anorexia.Especially when outpatient treatments are employed, it is imperative that the family be supportive in helping the teen to eat healthily.

Find Treatment

Both inpatient and outpatient anorexia treatment provide multiple forms of therapy – family therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, group therapy, individual therapy – to assist the patient with developing actionable and realistic plans to handle weight gain or weight maintenance. Dealing with underlying control issues and issues of self-esteem are also a part of the discussion with psychotherapists and counselors.

If you would like more information about anorexia treatment available to you or your loved one, you don’t need to walk this road alone; contact us at the number listed above today. We can answer your questions and help you get your health back.

Additional Resources

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/anorexia-nervosa
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml
https://www.girlshealth.gov/feelings/eatingdisorder/index.html