At an all time high in the UK eating disorders are affecting roughly 1.6 million people, with 11% of this figure being males and the most prevalent age group being between the ages of 14- 25 years old.
Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other psychological disorder and with the stigma, secrecy and deniability surrounding and associated with eating disorders it makes it very difficult to diagnose and treat.
This week we will look at the most common Eating Disorder:
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa normally do this by establishing a very restricted diet and drastically reducing the amount of food they eat as well as also excessively exercising.
What is thought to trigger Anorexia Nervosa?
It is thought that anxiety about body shape and weight is the most common factor amongst those suffering with anorexia. Although exact causes are still unknown there are a number of factors thought to make it more likely to develop Anorexia nervosa. These are:
- An existing tendency toward anxiety and depression
- A difficulty in handling stress
- Excessive worrying or feeling unsecure about the future
- Perfectionism – setting unrealistic expectations on yourself
- Being very emotionally restrained
- Having feelings of obsession or compulsion but not necessarily Obessive Compulsive Disorder.
- It is not proven but thought that some suffers had a phobia of being fat.
- Western culture and society
- The medias focus on celebrities and body shaming.
- Pressures and stress at school
- Occupations or hobbies with a culture of being thin as an ideal eg modelling or dancing
- A stressful life event
- Difficult family relationships
- Sexual abuse
- Changes in brain function or hormone level are thought to have a role in anorexia.
- If there is a family history of anorexia then it may increase the risk of someone developing anorexia.
- Most commonly affects girls although in recent years is becoming more common in boys.
- Most commonly the condition begins around the age of 16 -17 years old.
- It has been known for children as young as 7 years old to suffer from anorexia.
Signs to look out for
In the same way that everyone is different it is the same with individual cases of anorexia, which can make it difficult to identify. However, having said this there are general signs that you can look out for in particular certain habits individuals with anorexia may display. For example;
- Failure to gain weight at time of expected growth ( 10-14 years old)
- Sufferers may complain of stomach ache, nausea or constipation , but will not admit they are avoiding food.
- Obsessive and anxious tendencies towards food.
- Over exercising and the inability to stay still when sitting or standing.
- Calorie counting
- Avoidance in relation to eating around people or in front of others, e.g. they make ask to eat in their room or avoid family meals.
Advice for parents
Suspecting that your child may be suffering from Anorexia is never easy and often many parents will feel out of their depth and confused as to what to do. Most importantly try and stay calm and if you need to try and seek advice from your GP or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). Here are a few pointers into how to prepare yourself and how to act when tackling a conversation with your child about anorexia;
- If you suspect your child is suffering from anorexia PLAN what you are going to say.
- Be prepared for them to deny it or a negative response
- Don’t blame or judge them
- Concentrate on how they are feeling
- Stay calm
- Have resources to refer to
- Try to familiarise your self with the condition so that you are prepared.
- Do not mention body image even as a compliment just let them know you love them no matter what.
- Be a good role model with a good balanced diet
- Try to use sentences starting in ‘I’ rather than ‘You’
- If your child opens up to you come to an agreement with them to seek further help eg visiting a doctor or your local CAMHS branch where they will be able to provide help and support.
- If your child still denies it and you are concerned they are at risk still contact a doctor it is vital they get help as if they don’t it can be fatal. Alternatively, you can call the Beat Helpline on 0845 634 1414 for guidance and support.
Tips for coping with meal times
Anorexia won’t just affect the individual but also the rest of the family but it is important that the whole family are there to support the individual with anorexia especially at certain times which involve eating or self image. The main time being meal times. Here are a few suggestions on how to manage this;
- If your child is in treatment, ask their treatment team about the most appropriate way to arrange your mealtimes.
- Consider going shopping together and agreeing on meals that are acceptable to you both.
- An agreement with the whole family about what and when meals will be can help to set everybody’s expectations.
- Agree that none of you will talk about portion sizes, calories or the fat content of the meal.
- Avoid eating low-calorie or diet foods in front of them or having them in the house.
- Try to keep the atmosphere light-hearted and positive throughout the meal, even if you don’t feel that way on the inside.
- If they attempt to get too involved in cooking the meal as a way of controlling it, gently ask them to set the table or wash up instead.
- Try not to focus too much on them during mealtimes. Enjoy your own meal and try to make conversation.
- A family activity after the meal, such as a game or watching TV, can help to distract them from wanting to purge themselves or over-exercise.
- Don’t despair if a meal goes badly, just move on.
Most importantly if you are in doubt seek advice and help because if your child is suffering from Anorexia Nervosa it is important they get the help they need as left untreated can be fatal.Tags: advice, anorexia, children, eating disorders, grand children, mental health, parents, step children, teenagers
Categorised in: Au Pairs, CAMHS, Childcare, children, daughters, Eating Disorders, family, famiy, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, Nannies, parenting, parents, Step families, teenagers, toddlers, working mum
This post was written by Natalie Weller