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Tips for Parents to Save Their Teens from an Eating Disorder

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Though it is true that eating disorders can affect the people of all ages, but they are generally very common among teens. Eating disorders, which include diseases such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating are emotional and behavioural disorders that are characterised by abnormal eating behaviour.

These mental illnesses can ruin the entire life of your child if you fail to educate them about their condition at the right time. Parents play a crucial role in the recovery of their child from an eating disorder, provided the fact that they are aware of their behaviour. You need to monitor the behaviour of your child during their teenage years because that is when they start experimenting with their lives.

Whether you talk about alcohol addiction or an eating disorder, both these mental illnesses are quite common among teens nowadays, mostly because that’s the time they are exposed to a variety of things.

When a teen suffers from an eating disorder they either start consuming an excessive amount of food or they start starving themselves. In both the conditions, they fear weight gain and that’s the reason when they consume heavy meals, they try to vomit everything that they have eaten to maintain a low weight.

If your teenage child is suffering from anorexia nervosa (a mental health condition wherein people stop eating certain foods, because they believe that these foods help in increasing their weight) you must educate them about the harmful consequences of their behaviour. Until and unless your children get to know that they have an illness they will never work towards its recovery. 

Similarly, teens struggling with bulimia nervosa also fear weight gain, but they do not starve themselves. They consume an excessive amount of food in short time, and that is followed by purging. Since they eat an excessive amount of food in short intervals, they then try to get rid of it by purging – which is nothing but self-induced vomiting.

On the other hand, people suffering from binge eating disorder which is also known as compulsive overeating, are highly ashamed of their behaviour and that’s the reason they never talk about it to anyone.

In most of the eating disorders, the patients try to maintain low body weight by carrying out excessive exercise and purging. The worst part of suffering from an eating disorder is that most of the times the patients are unable to accept the fact that they have a serious disease, which has severe consequences for their health. However, once they realise that their mental illness can damage their life completely, they do work towards its recovery.

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders

  • Avoiding foods to maintain low body weight
  • Excessive consumption of food in short intervals followed by purging
  • Patients with eating disorders hide their disruptive food habits from others because they are ashamed of it
  • Denial of hunger with an intention to avoid food
  • They perform excessive exercises to lose weight
  • People with eating disorder have brittle nails and thin hair
  • They experience fatigue and dizziness throughout the day, because of the lack of nutrition
  • Women with eating disorder experience menstrual irregularities
  • Unhealthy teeth and gums along with swollen salivary glands also suggest that the person in question is suffering from an eating disorder
  • Some patients also experience a high level of stress and depression, when they feel that they do not look good because of their weight

How to save your child from an eating disorder?

  • Enhance your child’s understanding about eating disorders  – One of the most important ways of dealing with your child is to educate them properly about the harmful health consequences of an eating disorder. Whenever you feel like discussing your child’s disruptive food habits with them, it’s important to approach them in a friendly manner. You need to talk to them for hours while educating them about eating disorders. However, before you start educating your teen about the health consequences of an abnormal eating behaviour, it’s important that you have detailed information on it. Refer to books and journals to improve your knowledge about different types of eating disorders, and then teach your child about the same.
  • Convince them to meet a nutritionist –  It’s quite true that when a doctor or a nutritionist says something to you, you believe in it immediately. Therefore, if you want your child to recover soon from their illness, it’s better to take them to a reputable nutritionist. Whether your child is eating excessive food or they are following a strict diet, everything will be taken care once they meet a good nutritionist.
  • Convince your child to go for therapies – There are several therapies, which are used for treating patients afflicted with eating disorder, and you can also convince your child to go for them. Some of the most important therapies for eating disorder include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), Medical Nutrition Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Dance Movement Therapy. Apart from these therapies, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT) is also very common when it comes to treating eating disorders.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.  

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