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UNDERSTANDING EATING DISORDERS - A GUIDE FOR CHILDREN

Mya Care Blogger 15 Aug 2023
UNDERSTANDING EATING DISORDERS - A GUIDE FOR CHILDREN

Sometimes children have questions about their health. Therefore this article was written as a resource for parents, teachers or caregivers, to help explain eating disorders to children. If you are a minor, please make sure you read this with the supervision of an adult.

Eating disorders are when someone has a difficult time eating and feeling good about their body. Eating disorders make eating and thinking about our bodies feel confusing and not right. Knowing about eating disorders is important because it helps us understand when you or someone you know might be having problems with food and their body. By understanding this condition, you can help yourself, or the people close to you get better.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

There are a few distinct types of eating disorders. Let's learn more about each of them and how they can affect our health.

Anorexia Nervosa

Imagine someone who intentionally does not eat much and wants to become very thin. This is called Anorexia Nervosa. Adults or even children with anorexia might not feel hungry or they might eat very small amounts of food. But our bodies need food to give us energy and help us grow. When people with anorexia don't get enough food, their bodies become weak and tired. They might feel dizzy and have trouble thinking clearly. Over time, not getting the right nutrition can make their bones and muscles weak, which can cause serious health problems.

Bulimia Nervosa

Think about someone who eats a lot of food quickly and then worries a lot about gaining weight. This is Bulimia Nervosa. People with bulimia might try to fix this by making themselves throw up or exercising a lot. When they throw up, their bodies lose important nutrients that they need. This can lead to problems like a sore throat, damaged teeth, and stomach pain. Throwing up a lot can also upset the balance of important chemicals in the body, which is not good for the heart and other organs.

Binge Eating Disorder

Imagine feeling like you cannot stop eating, even when you are not really hungry. This is called binge eating disorder. People with this disorder eat a lot in a short amount of time and then feel bad about it later. When they eat so much, their stomachs might feel uncomfortable and their bodies might not like it. This can lead to gaining too much weight, which can cause health issues like heart problems, Diabetes, and trouble moving around comfortably.

Why Do Eating Disorders Happen?

Eating disorders can develop for various reasons, each tied to how people think about themselves, their bodies, and the world around them. Let's explore these reasons:

Feeling Pressured

Sometimes, the world around us sends messages that say we should look a certain way to be liked or accepted. This can happen through advertisements, social media, and even conversations.

When people feel this pressure, they might start worrying about their bodies and what they eat. They might think that if they look a certain way, everything will be better. This kind of thinking can lead to problems with eating.

Wanting Everything Perfect

Imagine trying to make everything in your life perfect – your schoolwork, your room, your clothes. Some people feel this way about their bodies too. They want their bodies to be "perfect" according to some idea they have in their minds. They might believe that if they can achieve this perfection, they'll feel happier and more in control. But, aiming for perfection can create a lot of stress and make them focus too much on how they eat.

Feelings Inside

Our minds and hearts are like a big puzzle of feelings. Sometimes, these feelings can be mixed up. When people feel sad, stressed, or worried, it can affect how they eat. Some might start eating too little, while others might eat too much. Eating can sometimes become a way to cope with these feelings, even though it is not the best way.

Genes

Just like we inherit our eye color or hair type from our family, we can also inherit the chances of going through certain struggles, including eating disorders. Our family history affects our genes, which are like tiny instructions that tell our bodies how to work.

Some people might be more likely to have an eating disorder because it runs in their family. However, having these genes does not mean we cannot overcome these challenges. With the right help and support, we can get better and learn healthy ways to manage these feelings.

Signs of Eating Disorders

When a person is dealing with an eating disorder, there are certain signs that might become noticeable. These signs can show up in both their bodies and their emotions. Let's take a closer look at these signs:

Body Changes

People with eating disorders might experience changes in their bodies that can be spotted:

  • Rapid Weight Loss: If someone is losing weight really quickly, it could be a sign that they are not eating enough. Our bodies need a certain amount of food to stay healthy, and not getting enough can make a person lose weight too fast.
  • Lack of Focus: Not getting the right nutrients from food can affect how well our brains work. If someone has trouble concentrating or thinking clearly, it might be linked to their eating habits.
  • Feeling Tired: When our bodies don't get enough energy from food, we can become very tired. So if someone seems extra tired all the time, it could be related to their eating.

Emotional Changes

Eating disorders can also cause changes in a person's emotions:

  • Sadness: People with eating disorders might feel sad more often. The struggles with food and body image can make a person feel down.
  • Worry: They might worry a lot about their bodies, what they eat, or their weight. This constant worry can make them feel anxious.
  • Anger: Feeling like things are out of control or not going the way they want can make some people with eating disorders feel angrier than usual.

Eating Changes

Look out for changes in eating habits:

  • Eating Too Much or Too Little: Someone might start eating much more food than they used to, or they might eat very tiny amounts. Both of these changes can indicate a problem with eating.
  • Bathroom Visits: After eating, some people might go to the bathroom a lot. This could be an attempt to get rid of the food they have eaten.
  • Avoiding Certain Foods: People with eating disorders might avoid certain foods they used to enjoy, especially if they think those foods will make them gain weight.

Recognizing these signs is important because they can show that someone is struggling and might need support. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, it is a good idea to talk to a grown-up you trust, like a parent, teacher, or school counselor. Remember, reaching out for help is a strong and brave thing to do.

Healthy Approaches to Food and Body

It is really important to look after both our bodies and our minds. Here are some ways we can do that:

Good Food

Eating the right kinds of foods is like putting fuel in a car – it helps us run, play, and learn. Imagine a plate with different colors: fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Each color brings something special to our bodies. Fruits and vegetables have vitamins that make us strong, grains give us energy, and proteins help our muscles grow. So, when we eat a mix of these foods, our bodies thank us for staying healthy and strong.

Respecting Ourselves

Our bodies are unique, just like our favorite toys or drawings. They are all ours, and that is something to be proud of. It is okay if we don't look exactly like someone else – that's what makes us special. We should talk nicely to ourselves and treat our bodies with kindness. Remember, it is not how we look that matters; it is how we feel inside.

Feeling Better

Sometimes, things can feel tough or confusing. When that happens, it is good to talk to grown-ups who care about us. They might be parents, teachers, or other trusted adults. Sharing our feelings with them can make us feel better and lighter, like a balloon that's been let go. They can help us find solutions and make things easier.

Remember, being healthy and happy is not just about our bodies, it is about how we feel inside too. By eating well, being kind to ourselves, and talking to trusted grown-ups when we need help, we are giving ourselves the tools to lead happy, healthy lives.

Seeking Help and Support

It is important to remember that we don't have to face challenges alone. There are people and resources out there to help and support us:

Talk to Grown-Ups

If we notice someone, maybe a friend or even ourselves, struggling with eating or feeling unhappy about their body, we can talk to grown-ups about it. These grown-ups might be our parents, teachers, school counselors, or other trusted adults. When we share our concerns, they can offer guidance and support.

Doctors and Helpers

There are trained people who know a lot about eating troubles and how to make things right. They are doctors, therapists, and counselors who understand what is happening and can provide the right help. These professionals can talk to us and our families about what is going on and suggest ways to make things better.

Websites and Groups

The internet can be a helpful place too. There are websites and online groups that provide information and support for people dealing with eating disorders. While it is important to be cautious online, trusted websites run by medical professionals or reputable organizations can give us valuable insights and advice. Sometimes, reading stories from others who have been through similar experiences can make us feel less alone and more hopeful.

Conclusion

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder can be challenging. They arise due to pressures from society, the need to be perfect, inner emotions, and even our genes. There are many signs that can help us identify when someone might be struggling, such as changes in the body, emotions, and eating habits.

It is important to take care of our bodies and minds through balanced nutrition, self-respect, and seeking support when needed. Eating disorders might seem like complex puzzles, but with the right support and understanding, they can be solved. Recovery is possible, and people can learn healthy ways to think about food, their bodies, and themselves.

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References:

  • Polivy, Janet, and C. Peter Herman. "Causes of eating disorders." Annual review of psychology 53.1 (2002): 187-213.
  • Striegel-Moore, Ruth H., and Cynthia M. Bulik. "Risk factors for eating disorders." American psychologist 62.3 (2007): 181.
  • Steinhausen, Hans-Christoph. "Outcome of eating disorders." Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America 18.1 (2009): 225-242.

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