Eating Disorders

Learn the warning signs of eating disorders in children, and what to do if you suspect your child has one.

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-Hi, everybody. And welcome to Parents TV. I'm Juli Auclair. Did you know that about four out of five 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat? It's really frightening, and it has a lot of parents worried that their children could develop an eating disorder. Well, joining us today is eating disorder specialist and psychotherapist, Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, with tips on the warning signs that parents can look out for, and what to do if you think your child has an eating disorder. Thank you so much for coming in. -Thank you for inviting me. -Let's start with why children at such a young age are worried about their weight. -Okay. I think there's a cultural message that's passed down, a legacy of fear about sizes and weight-ism. And the message is, "you can't be too thin." And if parents take that literally and pass that on to their kids, then we've got big troubles here. Parents sometimes don't realize-- unwittingly, they talk about fat grams and calories, and children get frightened of hearing that kind of talk. -So, Arden, how do eating disorders develop? Do they actually start at that young age? -They could. Children get stressed out like we do. And so, it's in-- it's a simple way of controlling and containing anxiety by focusing on one's weight and one's scale. And especially if the kid is feeling out of control in their life, depending on the context of what's going on in the family, if the stress-- of the stresses in the family that this is something that a child can do. They can control what they put and don't put in their mouth. -Let's start by talking about anorexia. Tell us what the signs are, what parents should be looking for. -Okay. Anorexia is a severe restriction of food, and a dramatic weight loss. Parents need to be aware of changes in behavior in their child. When the child starts skipping meals, when they start getting restrictive in what they're eating, and when they start sounding very perfectionistic, and condemning themselves about grades at school, or just, you know, "I look fat. I don't like the way I look." That's-- that is a sure, solid sign that something is brewing. -How about bulimia? Because sometimes, the signs aren't there, necessarily. -Well-- -Harder to spot? -Very hard to spot. It's the best-kept secret because bulimics can be of an average weight, but it's recurrent binges and purges, okay? And parents need to be alerted to things like food missing in the house, child frequently going to the bathroom to relieve themselves, to purge. Look out for laxatives or diuretics in the house as well. -So, when you do see some of these signs, the food missing or a child talking about being overweight-- -Right. -what do you do? What's the first things a parent should do? -Okay. I think the parent needs to sit down very calmly and come from a place of love, and talk to their child about, "I notice there's a change in you behavior. You seem to be more moody. I notice you're skipping meals. You're not quite yourself. I love you. I'm concerned about you, and I want to help." -Okay. Let's talk about parents with younger children. Like we were talking, my daughter is 6 years old. -Right. Yeah. -How do we prevent it from even beginning? How do we keep her from starting to notice people's weight and-- -Right. -that she might be a little chubby. -Right. Well, you let the child know that it's okay that people come in different size, shapes, and colors. Puberty hasn't hit yet, and when puberty hits, children develop, and some of that normal baby fat, nice baby fat, kind of sits off somewhat. But you let the child know that they're enough as they are, that they're loved unconditionally, and that they're more than their body. You know, they have their intelligence, they have their quick wit, they have their compassion. There's so much more than their body. -Arden, thank you so much. Great information, really important. And if you like more information, Arden has a newsletter that you can sign up for. And to do that, you just go to Arden's website at Now, let's take a look at another side of eating disorders. Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites. Jamie Roth talked to some young women who are caught up in this online world. Take a look. -When you're suffering through an eating disorder, you feel terribly alone. That's what we learned from three women, who's stories you're about to hear. They all turned to the internet to research their disorders and to find others who truly understood. What they actually found was a community of websites run by other people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, who feel that their eating disorders aren't a problem at all. Cori Magnotta always thought she had more to lose. She began modeling as a young girl, and coached herself to starve, vomit and inhale up to 100 laxatives a night. Then, she started logging on to certain internet sites-- obsessively. -I was up into a whole new world. I was already engaging in some behaviors, but you know, they loaded the gun, and I feel that pro-anorexic websites really pulled the trigger. "Dear Ana, I offered you my soul, my heart, and my bodily functions. I seek your wisdom, your faith, and your feather weight. I pledge to obtain the ability to float, to lower my weight to the single digits." -Rebecca watched her friends disappear as bulimia plunged her into a cycle of starvation, binging, vomiting, and relentless guilt. -I was looking to basically find other people that were going through the same thing that I was going through, just so I didn't feel so alone. -She found Ana and Mia in websites offering thinspiration. Pictures of emaciated celebrities and models intended to spur her to lose more weight. -They're reminding me that, you know, I wanted to be this skinny, and this is what our society thinks is pretty, and if I don't fit that mold, I'm not gonna be considered pretty. -Eat vicariously. Watch other people eat and feel superior. You don't need that food. If you vomit a little blood, stop. I force you to stare at magazine models. Those waifish models are perfection. I make you realize that you could never be them. You will always be fat, and never will you be as beautiful as they are. -Amy Pumerantz is the nutrition coordinator for Student Health Services at UConn. She says Ana and Mia can make sick people sicker through subtle trickery. -This is their friend. Ana and Mia being very friendly names. Something in life that is always there for them. What's encouragement of the unhealthy behavior. -At one point, Emily Digemis restricted her diet to cantaloupe and diet soda. Pro-ana websites told her there is nothing wrong with looking like this. -I think they promote the idea that it's more acceptable and desirable. It's not seen as a problem. And when you're already ambivalent about changing, that becomes like your safety zone. -More than finding solace in community, Cori Magnotta found organized activities. -The bunch of Mias, which is bulimics, will get together and they'll organize a team Starve, to see who can starve the longest. Now, unfortunately, the prize is usually somebody dies. -It's impossible to know just how many pro-ana, pro-mia websites exist. Many assume a religious overtone-- offering prayers and creeds, which promote starvation. There's even a "Thin Commandments." Thou shalt not eat without feeling guilty. Thou shalt not eat fattening foods without punishing oneself afterwards. For Cori, the reading material only took her so far. Until she linked up with a pen pal, known as an Ana buddy. -My partner was in the UK. And because she was in the UK, she could get the good diet pills that were illegal in the United States. I'd either send her money or United States pills. It's like, "Hey, let's trade." -Now, these women have found the will to recover. But even today, Rebecca admits that looking at pro-ana sites is risky. -Looking at the websites, you know, they kinda-- they come back a little bit stronger, like I kinda wanna get back into that again 'cause I'm not happy with how I look. -How powerful are they, then? -I think they're very powerful that I think they're dangerous. -Some internet search engines will no longer direct you to the pro-ana, pro-mia sites, but others will, saying it's an issue of free speech. And just as quickly as these sites may disappear, others can easily take their place.