Does My Child Have an Eating Disorder? 6 Possible Signs

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Trigger warning:

The following includes images and descriptions of someone suffering from an eating disorder. This story is told with the permission of Wendy York.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fabletics. All opinions are 100% mine.

“Mommy, I think I might be anorexic.”

This was the first sentence in a phone call from my daughter Wendy a couple of weeks after returning to college after winter break of her freshman year.

“Oh, that’s probably not it,” was my initial response. That response was not only a hindrance; it was potentially damaging. I was lucky that she was acknowledging her eating disorder, that she wanted help and that she was asking for it. Most people who suffer from eating disorders avoid getting help, which is conceivably fatal. Looking back, the signs of her disorder were there and I ignored them. I am still trying to forgive myself for that.

Possible signs of an eating disorder include the following, but please note that there are many other possibilities:

 

  • Changes in food behaviors, like measuring small portions, binging and purging
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Emotional withdrawal, anxiety and/or depression
  • Changes in facial color and/or dark circles under the eyes
  • Changes in or cessation of menstrual cycle
  • Excessive or compulsive physical activities or workouts

After doing some research and accepting the fact that my daughter was in trouble, we scheduled an appointment with the campus doctor. He mentioned the high percentage of eating disorders on college campuses and assured me that Wendy’s acknowledgement and willingness to get treatment was our biggest hurdle. He told me that people with eating disorders are at risk for several possible health problems, many of which (if not treated) can result in death. He felt the most important thing for us to focus on initially was an increase in calories and weight gain.

Yeah, good luck with that. In came the specialists.

We added appointments for blood work and an electrocardiogram at the nearby hospital, a psychologist to work through the emotional causes and ramifications, a psychiatrist for prescriptions of Prozac for the accompanying depression, an academic advisor, and routine Skype calls with a registered dietitian to supplement Wendy’s regular visits with her medical doctor. Despite all the professionals doing their best to aid in Wendy’s recovery, we reached a point where her doctor told us that if she did not gain weight, she would be removed from school and sent home on medical leave.

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Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness…

Wendy was all the way across the country, so bringing her home to Los Angeles meant hiring a whole new team. After speaking with multiple psychologists, psychiatrists and registered dieticians in L.A. who did not accept insurance, we called the highly recommended eating disorder treatment facility, Monte Nido. After two phone assessments, it was determined that she was a candidate for their 7-days-per-week, 8-hours-per-day out-patient program. Insurance covered a decent percentage, but medical bills were already piling up and I had to dip into my retirement fund.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and, per the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associative Disorders, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders in the U.S. (nearly 10% of our population). Someone dies every 62 minutes as a direct result from an eating disorder. It is probable that many, many more go undiagnosed.

Eating disorders can be classified as addictions, but they cannot be treated in the same way as other addictions, because unlike with a substance abuse problem, we cannot eliminate food from our lives. We need it to survive.

There are a lot of theories about what causes eating disorders and there is current research being done in neurobiology and brain research. Evidence shows that in some, there may be a genetic predisposition, but there also seems to be a direct correlation in the way our culture views our bodies and in the ways women are objectified and commercialized in the media. As parents, we have the responsibility and opportunity to properly address this with our children.

When teaching my children about health, physical fitness and proper nutrition, I was always careful not to discuss it in terms of weight or physique as a determining factor of overall beauty. It was important to me that their inner beauty was what was nurtured. As I watched my daughter go through this, I had to take a closer look at myself and acknowledge the ways in which I contributed to her eating disorder in how I modeled treatment of myself. I am the first to point out the beauty in everyone but me, and that’s a problem.

I have few memories of when I truly felt good in my own skin. For most of my life, I have been incredibly fit, but because of my own emotional issues and lack of self-esteem, I only saw flaws when I looked in the mirror. Every time my kids heard me make a disparaging remark about my body or saw me make a face when someone gave me a compliment, I hurt them. When talking with my children about this issue, I should have started with appreciation for my own body, all the ways I am grateful for how it serves me, and the things about me that are beautiful, the most important of which is my inner beauty.

There is more awareness than ever before on this issue, but we have a long way to go. With that awareness, however, comes a certain shift. As the mother of an eating disorder survivor, I am grateful for companies that celebrate body positivity and diversity.

One company I love, partly because of the affordability factor, is Kate Hudson’s line of activewear that was founded in 2013, Fabletics. Fabletics supports an active lifestyle, but their primary focus is to inspire women to “live your passion, whether that means competing in an iron(wo)man competition, sweating in the studio, or chasing after your kids.” Fabletics  has a whole “collection that’s designed for and devoted to every woman and every workout, regardless of age, shape, size or fitness level.” They want every single one of us to feel welcome and beautiful. I love their diversity and the message that every woman, regardless of shape, size or fitness level, is beautiful. Because it’s true.

If every clothing company embraced diversity and body positivity like Fabletics, it would be a huge step in our culture towards encouraging our children in the areas of self-love and acceptance of their unique individuality and inner beauty.

Wendy is doing much better now, but eating disorders are much like addictions. Healing from them is an ongoing process and requires consistent effort and a desire to be healthy. I am so proud of how hard she has worked, and continues to work, on taking care of herself and how much she supports and promotes the body positivity movement. Loving ourselves is multi-faceted and at its foundation is the acceptance of exactly who we are, inside and out, and embracing all the beauty in that.

 

All women are beautiful. I am inspired by women every single day. With everything I have accomplished in my own life, I should be inspired by myself. It is something I will work on improving and embracing every day, for the rest of my life. I have my daughter to thank for that.

If you think you may have an eating disorder, or you know someone who is in trouble, here is a short screening tool for ages 13 and up to help determine if you or your loved one needs professional help. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Here is a list of helpful books by Carolyn Costin, founder of Monte Nido.

 

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