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Eating Disorder Awareness, Tips For Parents

In observance of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 26 through March 4), we asked Jen Freilino, licensed professional counselor with Department of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at Arkansas Children’s to talk about such disorders and the role parents play in modeling a healthy lifestyle. She also shares some insightful tips for parents if they think their child might have an eating disorder.

What are some other common types of Eating disorders?

There are actually five eating disorders in the psychological diagnostic manual: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), other specified eating disorder, and unspecified eating disorder. 

People with anorexia do eat, just not enough for their basic needs and/or exercise level. They can also binge and purge like in bulimia nervosa. ARFID looks a lot like anorexia and is lesser known. The person with ARFID has similar medical complications as with anorexia such as weight loss, loss of periods (if female), low heart rate, etc. However, they are not concerned about weight gain or body image. Rather, they are intensely worried about other things that keep them from eating such as fear of vomiting or choking.
 

What are some tips for parents/teachers to watch for if they think their child/student has an ED?

Watch for changes in weight and eating habits, frequent trips to the bathroom or showers after eating, obsessive need to exercise, missing periods (if female), and excessive talk about food, weight, or negative comments about their body. Remember people with anorexia will still eat, they just won’t eat enough.

They may not “look” like they have an eating disorder and can even be overweight. Even boys can get eating disorders. The most common place that people make themselves throw up is in the shower. If you check their social media or look up their Google search histories, you will probably find a fixation on/around food, healthy eating, weight loss, and fitness.
 

How big a role do parents play in helping their child deal with an ED?

Huge. You are one of your child’s biggest role models, advocates, supporters, and cheerleaders. What you do and how you respond is crucial to their recovery, even if they don’t admit or recognize it.  
 

When does a "picky eater" turn into a candidate for an eating disorder?

Many factors come together to trigger an eating disorder. Not all picky eaters go on to develop an eating disorder, but some do. Some of the factors that can put people at higher risk include: dieting, perfectionism, high-achieving personalities, pre-existing anxiety, physical/sexual abuse history, family history of substance abuse or eating disorders, and playing sports that are heavily body- or weight- focused such as ballet, wrestling, running, or football.
 

What can parents do to encourage a healthy relationship to food?

Model it. This doesn’t mean only eating “healthy” foods. This means eating all foods in moderation. And, leaving the “good versus bad” or “clean eating versus dirty eating” language out of it.

If you are concerned that your child is struggling with an eating disorder or you aren’t sure, that’s what we’re here for. Call us at (501) 364-4460 and we can walk you through the next steps.

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