I Had an Eating Disorder - How to Tell If Your Child Has One, Too

By Lauren A., GalTime.com

Do you know if your child is dealing with a silent battle?Do you know if your child is dealing with a silent battle?I read a report that more than half-a-million U.S. teens have had an eating disorder. But I'm not going to rattle off all the scary statistics, instead I can offer personal insight.

The first time I ever thought about my weight is when I was seven years old. I was watching the Disney Channel. I don't remember the name of the movie, but it was about a teenage ballerina who starts purging to lose weight. I know it was supposed to raise awareness against eating disorders, but I only took away the concept that I could be fat.

I didn't immediately start watching my weight, but I saw myself differently. I had to be skinnier than all the other girls. I started looking at nutritional labels in the grocery store for the number of calories. One time a middle-aged women noticed, and complimented me for learning such good-eating habits at an early age.
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If you are a mother, I am sure you are worried about your child developing a negative body image. We hear so much about diet, exercise, new-low-calorie foods, the prevalence of obesity, and eating disorders. These are recurring themes. If you look through magazines over the years, you will see women were dealing with the same issues years ago that they struggle with today.

PAY ATTENTION TO PERSONALITY

Moms, certain personalities attract eating disorders. For instance, I was a perfectionist, and I exhibited obsessive tendencies. Depression, stress, and suicidal thoughts are tied to Anorexia, Bulimia, and binge eating.

I know the habits of a teenager who is trying to hide an unhealthy secret, so I can help you notice the signs.

I am introverted; a recent TIME Magazine article reported 30% of people are. Being introverted is not essential to having an eating disorder, but being isolated can combine with other factors to make it more likely.

BAGGY CLOTHES & OTHER COVER UPS

I would try to cover up my not-eating in many ways. You always hear about baggy clothes, but it is true: I tried to hide my thinness. I starved myself throughout the day, at school, but my family eats dinner together at the table. I had to eat something, so I would cut up my food, and spread it out on the plate. To finish the meal when my parents did, despite my lesser serving, I would chew slowly, and drink lots of water in between bites. Sometimes I went to a movie with friends, but told my parents it was a movie and dinner. I would intentionally pick earlier movie times so I would miss dinner at home.

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LOTS OF LIQUIDS

In general, I drank lots of fluids: they make you feel full, and suppress hunger. If you notice you are buying an unusual amount of Arizona Diet Green Tea for your child, for instance, it may mean he or she is more than thirsty. People who have unusual eating habits do not like to eat with others. We tell fibs of having already eaten, or of not feeling well. On weekends, I would wait until my mom was out on an errand, put a plate and dirty knife in the sink, and say I had already eaten a sandwich when she returned. If you realize you do not see your son or daughter eating, he or she may not be. If your child is constantly reassuring you that they are eating, it may be a sign they are not. Somedays, I would eat a striking amount, and it was not the result of being a growing teenager. I had starved myself, so naturally my body was hungry. Then, I would binge eat. If your son or daughter eats a whole box of peanut butter shortbread cookies in one sitting, followed by more eating, there may be an unhealthy reason. I have read, and it was the case for me, that some people suffering from eating disorders prepare food for others that they do not eat themselves: I went through a baking phase.

WEBSITES TO WATCH OUT FOR

There are many "inspirations" for being "thin" (thin does not really cover the severity). For instance, there are Pro-Anorexia and Pro-Bulimia blogs, which offer motivation and tips to inspire eating disorders. I never used these websites, but many do. I watched America's Next Top Model, flipped through magazines, and looked up model profiles on agency websites like Elite Model Management. I later found thinspirations, which are online-image collections of bony models, emaciated girls, and before and after "transformations" of weight loss. Talk to your sons and daughters, early on, about the dangers of these websites and the behaviors they promote.

Related: Parenting Alert: Dangerous Websites for Teenage Girls

CHOOSE YOUR WORDS

I include sons and daughters because both males and females are victims of eating disorders. If you want to know what to say, I can tell you what not to say to someone you suspect has an illness. Do not tell them that they are too thin. To an anorexic or a bulimic, there is no such thing as too thin: they hear that as a compliment. We mainly crave control: we tell ourselves that we are in control over our eating and ourselves. If you told me that I looked ill, or that I looked like I needed to seek help, I would have responded. Instead, girls would ask me what my secret was to being so skinny. When I eventually saw a nutritionist and went to GNC to get weight-gain-protein shakes, the young-male employee asked me why I wanted to gain weight because I looked like a model.

GET COUNSELING

Many people to do not receive the treatment they need for their eating disorder. Unhealthy eating habits can persevere for decades. Teenagers may never get help, and continue the habits into adulthood. Counseling is imperative because eating disorders have life-threatening symptoms. Recognizing and treating the disease is a delicate situation, but people who are affected do not often see the way out. We need others to help us. I got down to 91 lbs, and I would have continued losing if no one had intervened.

"Lauren A" is in recovery from her eating disorder and is a contributor for GalTime.


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