Most people assume eating disorders exist only in teenagers, but eating disorders can develop across all age groups. While eating disorders are physically and psychologically damaging to anyone but we see children with eating disorders as particularly vulnerable due to the risks of stunted growth and delayed development.
Hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne have seen a large increase in eating disorder admissions in children under 12 in the last 15 years. Some research suggests as much as 80% of 10 year old Australian girls have already been on a diet, and want to lose weight. In today’s society, children are exposed to strong messages through social media about dieting, and ideal body shapes and sizes.
Worried your child may have an eating disorder? Here are some warning signs:
- Obsessing over food
- Food avoidance
- Worrying about gaining weight
- Counting calories
- Eating in secret
- Binge eating (eating an unusually large proportion of food within a 2 hour sitting) and purging (throwing up)
- Stagnant weight – in growing children, this is equivalent to weight loss
- Strenuous exercise to control weight – or constant movement
Preventing eating disorders
Children are influenced by their parents and teachers, it is important that you are positive role models for them. Although we can’t protect children from the strong focus on appearance in our society and in the media, we can try to counterbalance the negative impact:
- Encourage healthy, flexible behaviour around food and exercise, rather than deeming a food or activity ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
- Try not to use food as a reward or punishment.
- Avoid making negative or positive comments about your child’s body. Instead, make affirming comments about their behaviour, their personality and their attitude.
- Your child might have a different body type to you, and this is not good or bad. They will also have different eating habits to an adult. Their bodies are growing rapidly, hormones are changing and their tastebuds are developing. Try not to compare them to yourself.
- Avoid comparing them to others. Don’t put your preconceived ideas about what they should look like onto them. They will grow and develop at their own rate. Try to accept them as they are.
- Encourage acceptance and respect of their bodies and their health.
- Finally, lead by example. Show acceptance and confidence towards your own body. Engage in healthy eating and exercise in a positive, balanced way. Check out Taryn Brumfitt and her Body Image Movement for some guidance and inspiration: https://bodyimagemovement.com/
Think your child might have an eating disorder? Our new psychologist Natasha can help.