How To Handle A Child With Anorexia

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 0.5 to 3.7 percent of girls and women will develop anorexia nervosa over a lifetime, and around 1.1 to 4.2 percent will develop bulimia nervosa. Nearly 0.5 percent of anorexics die each year from the illness, making it one of the top psychiatric illnesses to cause death.

Those suffering from anorexia are extremely fearful of gaining extra weight and may exhibit negative behaviors and actions leading to severe weight loss. Pounds are lost by over-exercising and restricting calorie intake. Anorexics view their bodies in a distorted way. When they look in the mirror, despite being dangerously thin, they see themselves as too heavy. For concerned parents who have children with anorexia, there is an array of assistance available from programs at hospitals, treatment centers, and clinics specializing in eating disorder recovery.

One of the problems in overcoming anorexia is that those with the illness don’t usually see it that way—that don’t think they are sick. If somebody with anorexia is in immediate danger, they might need emergency care for malnourishment, including dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Long-term treatment entails a team effort with professionals trained in eating disorders, including dieticians, mental health professionals, medical doctors, and treatment centers:

• Dieticians. A dietitian will create meal plans and monitor calorie intake to implement a healthy diet. However, there’s more to recovering from an eating disorder than changing one’s eating habits.

• Mental Health Professionals. People who suffer from anorexia suffer emotionally and mentally as well. They need change the way they view themselves to boost their self-esteem, and their mood can benefit from carefully prescribed and monitored antidepressants. Psychiatric treatment sessions typically last at least a year and take place one-on-one, with family, or with other people with eating disorders.

• Medical Providers. While those still in the early stages (less than 6 months) typically avoid hospital stays, for people with advanced cases, checking into a unit for anorexia or bulimia may be required. People with anorexia need constant monitoring of electrolytes, hydration levels, and vital signs. A doctor should be involved in the on-going medical treatment.

• Treatment Centers. Clinics across the country provide a live-in environment for children suffering from anorexia. These centers provide a treatment team—dieticians, psychiatrists, and doctors—under one roof. Such programs entail an extended stay.

While concerned parents can’t force children with anorexia to stop, it is imperative to support them in their struggles. More and more, doctors and patients advocate family-centered therapy—letting parents back into the treatment process. For decades, parents were seen as an anorexic’s biggest problem and were even blamed as the cause for the disorder. Research has shown that while parents can influence a child’s eating disorder, they are typically not the cause. Known as the Maudsley approach (after the London-based hospital it was developed in), family-centered therapy focuses on helping parents become a support system. Food is the “medicine” to treat the illness, and doctors coach parents and their child through meals and appropriate behavior in a clinical setting. After a few tries, families are then sent home to continue the treatment. Patients benefit from the love and support afamily network provides.

Regardless of the approach settled on, for any treatment program to be successful, those with anorexia need the continued support of family and friends. Following is advice for parents, courtesy of The National Eating Disorders Foundation (www.edap.org):

Educate yourself about eating disorders. Read as much material as you can in magazines, books, articles, and brochures.

Understand the differences between facts and myths about weight, nutrition, and exercise. Being armed with facts will help you reason with your child about the misconceptions they adhere to.

Be truthful. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to a child who struggles with eating or body image issues. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist does not help.

Be loving, yet firm. Loving your means you hold them accountable for their actions and the consequences of those actions. It does not mean you let them manipulate you. Do not make rules or promise you can’t or don’t intend to uphold, such as “I won’t tell anyone” or “If you do this anymore I won’t ever speak with you.”

Sincerely compliment your child on their terrific personality, accomplishments, or contributions. Reinforce the idea that beauty is not just skin deep.

Be a positive example in regard to your own eating, exercising, and self-acceptance.

Know when to share. It can be hard to know if you should share your concerns with somebody else, if at all. By addressing issues with eating or body image early, you stand a better chance of working through the issues with your child. Don’t wait to seek help until your child is extremely sick. They need as much support from you as possible.

About The Author

Rob Zawrotny is a copywriter for MWI. He has assisted Avalon Hills with developing content that is useful for parents who have children with eating disorders. Visit http://www.mwi.com and http://www.avalonhills.org for more information.

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