Recognizing and handling an eating disorder

Warning Signs: What to Watch For

  • "Food Rules" - sudden changes in diet such as becoming a vegetarian, placing limits on when and how much they can eat.

  • Reluctance to eat around others - excuses such as "stomach aches," food "allergies" or claims of just not being hungry.

  • Frequently disappearing to the bathroom during and after meals. The frequent use of perfume or fresheners in the bathroom, signaling vomiting.

  • Denial - refusal to admit to restricted diet, covering up weight loss.

  • Increased interest in food - cooking for others but not eating, searching the internet for recipes, supermarket shelf gazing, label reading.

  • New exercise routine - strict, rigid and grueling.
Common Myths About Eating Disorders
  • Families (in particular mothers) are to blame for their daughter/son developing an eating disorder.

  • People with eating disorders choose to have their illness.

  • People with eating disorders are trying to punish their parents or get attention.

  • Eating disorders are all about vanity and wanting to look like a model.

  • Eating disorders are about food.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has an Eating Disorder
  • Don't wait - talk to your child. Waiting can be incredibly harmful.

  • Prepare yourself for a difficult, possibly hostile, conversation.

  • Be sensitive, compassionate and avoid accusations.

  • Schedule a medical exam and psychological evaluation with an expert in eating disorders.
Causes: Why Is This Happening?
  • The causes of eating disorders are complex and doctors aren't sure exactly why eating disorders occur. Genetics, personality and environmental factors can all play a role.

  • Self esteem has a strong link with eating disorders. Poor self esteem often accompanies an eating disorder.

  • Boys and men also suffer; it's not just girls and women.
Tips for Preventing Eating Disorders
  • Educate. Help your teen, especially if you have a daughter, understand that weight gain and a changing body are normal as you grow up and become a woman.

  • Model. Make sure that your family is emphasizing healthy food choices and exercise, rather than dieting and weight. Don't criticize your own body and avoid making negative comments about others.

  • Empower. Engage your daughter in age-appropriate decisions that give her control and confidence. Being in control of these decisions will help her to develop feelings of competence and her self esteem will follow.
  • Emotional problems, including depression, anxiety and even suicide

  • Injury due to weakened body

  • Death
  • Treatment should consist of psychotherapy in combination with close medical monitoring with a treatment team that has experience with eating disorders. You can find a therapist in your area using the free service
  • Eating disorders are estimated to affect 5-10 million females and 1 million males in the United States.

  • 40% of 9- and 10-year-old girls are already trying to lose weight.

  • 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time that they have reached the fourth grade (Time magazine)

  • 90% of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25.
About Dr. Starr Kelton-Locke:
Dr. Starr Kelton-Locke is a Bay Area-based Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist with 21 years of experience working with families dealing with eating disorders.

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