In a recent article on Deccan Herald, cyber-powered extremism among teens is addressed as a mental health challenge that unchecked can lead to eating disorders, addictions and depression. For this reason I spend a lot of time in the field working with professionals on prevention and recovery strategies to address various behavioral health issues impacting tech-savvy youth (including anxiety, depression, addictions and bullying/violence) in order to help inform parents how become a confident, healing resource for youth. Below are some insights from professionals involved in eating disorder treatment and recovery.
Recently Laurie Snodgrass, MFT, Primary Therapist for Partial Hospitalization at the Eating Recovery Center in Sacramento, and Kerri Mulligan, RD, in private practice, gave a talk on Recovery with Eating Disorders, at the Women’s Association for Addiction Treatment meeting, in Sacramento. Snodgrass and Mulligan offered insights about the nature of an eating disorder and the factors that help with recovery and prevention.
Snodgrass opened the discussion with criteria for understanding when restriction, rules about eating or “compensatory behaviors” cross the line into a pathological state putting teens at risk for eating disorders as well as other harmful food, body image related behaviors and preoccupations. All of these can become a threat to physical, mental and social health. “Eating disorders involve a range of behaviors,” Snodgrass said, “with the most common involving restriction of food intake, binge eating, where a considerable quantity of food is eaten in a pattern that feels out of control and results in self-criticism, and purging behaviors which can include compulsive exercise, self-induced vomiting, laxative or diet pill abuse.”
She further explains that it can be difficult to recognize when dieting, exercising or other behavior is becoming problematic, because a person suffering from an eating disorder may attempt to minimize the extent to which increasingly extreme behavior is noticed by others. What may appear to be a healthy choice, can for some individuals trigger a cascade of emotional, cognitive, health and behavioral difficulties that are identifiable as eating disorders and over time can result in deterioration of physical and mental health, academic progress, relationships, and sense of self.
Eating disorders involve behaviors including extreme food restriction, compulsive exercise, other purging behaviors, and binge eating.
For many people food decisions result in some restrictions (i.e., not overeating sweets and carbs) and avoidance of a small group of disliked foods. Normal eaters may at times eat somewhat more than is comfortable but do not make efforts to get rid of food. There is evidence that recovery outcomes are better with early identification and treatment. So here are some things that Snodgrass suggests parents can look for:
- General signs: Significant changes in food preferences or portion sizes; skipping meals or snacks; eating alone; avoiding food related events or activities; wearing looser clothing or other changes in style; rapid weight loss or gain; weight loss below the norm for the child; negative comments or preoccupation with personal appearance; calorie counting, restriction of fluid intake; focus on healthy eating that results in significant reduction in variety.
- Use of laxatives or laxative teas, changes in exercise patterns; exercising more than one time per day, exercising when ill or injured; use of diet pills or supplements, excessive time in the bathroom – especially after meals, evidence of vomiting not explained by a short-term illness
- Hiding or hoarding food; eating dramatically larger amounts of food than normal; experiencing self-criticism or disgust in response to eating
- Isolation; irritability, frequently feeling cold, fatigue, changes in sleep, body image distortion or preoccupation
Snodgrass and Mulligan offer some examples below of how rules about food are having adverse impact on your child’s well-being include:
- Preoccupation with body-image and deterioration of self-image
- Impact on relationships, often involving increasing isolation and lying
- Avoidance of gatherings that involve meals or more revealing clothing
- Health consequences including impact on dental health, gastrointestinal system, cardiac, bone and brain health, development of mood, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
Tips for parents
- Be mindful of how you talk about your own and other people’s appearance including size and shape. Negative comments, even if they aren’t directed at a child can result in more worry about how they will be judged by others.
- Limit the use of food as a reward or punishment. Avoid labeling of foods as good or bad and “healthy or unhealthy”. Both can lead to complicated and overly judgment laden responses to foods and to the child’s own appetite.
- Work to maintain consistent patterns of meals and snacks. Work to maintain a social environment at meals. Isolative eating makes it harder to identify or respond to eating related behaviors or concerns.
- Avoid making statements that compare your children to one another or their peers. Whether or not you mean to inspire shame, children are always looking for signals of acceptance and a parent’s comparisons to others introduces doubt.
- Express an attitude that exercise is valued as a way to stay healthy, feel well and have fun, not to control your body size. Exercise should ideally be associated with socialization and play.
- Involvement in youth sports, PE, health education classes, or other activities may involve exposure to inaccurate health and nutrition information as well as “encouragement” of youth in efforts to change their weight and body shape. Help your child learn to be a discriminating thinker and to take diet and fitness recommendations with a “grain of salt”.
- Encourage your child to focus on a skills development and personal attributes rather than appearance, dieting and exercise as avenues to fit in.
If you have concerns about changes in your child’s habits, preoccupation with fitness or appearance, or health, consult with your child’s physician or find an experienced health provider who can provide a consult or assessment to help you decide whether any additional action is warranted. To learn more and make an appointment go to Eating Recovery Center
To learn more about the things parents can do to open up communication about eating and other issues your child may be experiencing, contact Joanna at Core Connectivity.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.