Did you know that approximately 30 million individuals are affected by an eating disorder at some point in their life? I learned this fact while doing research on National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which just wrapped up on March 1st. Eating disorders are sometimes taken lightly, but the truth is, they have one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder.
Most counselors, and some of the general public, are probably familiar with Ana and Mia, nicknames associated with two well-known eating disorders, Anorexia and Bulimia, respectively. However, you might be surprised to learn that BED, Binge Eating Disorder, is actually the most common. It may not sound as serious initially. After all, who hasn’t “binged” on a box of Girl Scout cookies or pizza after an intense workout (I might be guilty of both)? Of course, the occasional binge doesn’t necessarily mean you have an eating disorder. It’s problematic when the habit becomes a coping mechanism, particularly when started at an early age. In fact, binge eaters are often overweight or obese even as children.
Children, unlike healthy adults, are generally less equipped to deal with the emotional challenges that life throws their way – from bullying to “growing pains.” Although we can expect children to have strong appetites while their bodies are growing, it’s important for parents to be aware of the difference between satisfying an appetite and binge eating. Here are a few questions for curious parents to consider:
- Are there large amounts of food missing from the pantry?
- Is your child eating his or her food quickly?
- Do you notice your child eating more following a stressful event, such as a family conflict or poor sports performance?
- Does your child verbally (or through body language) often show disgust with what he or she has eaten?
- Have you frequently found empty wrappers or containers hidden in your child’s room?
- Do you have concerns about any irregular eating patterns (e.g., skipping meals or eating at unusual times)?
Although I am a strong advocate of utilizing trained professionals, there are still plenty of steps that parents can take on their own – an important one being awareness. Although it’s difficult for parents to discover that their child may have an eating disorder, I have found that it’s helpful to empower them through this process. Check back for an upcoming post on some ways to do this!
Sadaf Siddiqi is a certified counselor with an interest in mental health research and its application to children and families. Please share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org