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Anorexia: When eating becomes a problem

Thin, Thinner, Thinnest

As parents you would be right to be alarmed if your daughter or son is conspicuously thin or has been losing weight  drastically. A burst of growth is one possible reason but anorexia or another illness/eating disorder could also be behind it. Visit a doctor with your child to rule out a possible physical cause. Should you suspect anorexia, it is important to deal with it comprehensively and seek professional help for you and your child.

Signs of anorexia

Anorexics are very underweight; however they believe they are fat. Therefore they hardly eat anything, weigh themselves constantly and continue to starve themselves even though their weight has reduced alarmingly. In addition to eating lesser, many anorexics are also compelled to exercise all the time. They devote several hours per day to exercise in order to lose more weight. Anorexia usually begins during the teen years or young adulthood.

The following behaviour can be typical:

  • Your child is happy to cook for the whole family yet eats hardly eats anything themselves himself/herself, or they pretend to eat by chewing and finally spitting the food out when they think no one is looking
  • Anorexics eat extremely slowly and sometimes extremely hot or cold food
  • Those affected by anorexia constantly weigh themselves and tend to be perfectionists and need to be in control
  • They show a disproportionate amount of responsibility towards their parents and siblings and are extremely achievement-orientated, including in school
  • Sometimes they are excessively cautious with money, obsessed with neatness and live very modestly.
  • Anorexics withdraw emotionally and others find them very aloof
  • Black and white or extreme thinking and depressive depressing thoughts are also typical
  • Those affected will refuse to admit to having the illness disorder for a long time

Causes And Consequences Of Anorexia

The causes of the illness are very diverse. The family environment may be a cause, for example. Anorexics often come from close-knit families that strive for harmony and have high expectations of each family member. Putting a lot of emphasis on looks, dieting, over criticism on children’s body & appearance, cultural pressures etc. are the common reasons. Other reasons to trigger anorexia can be low self - esteem, stressful life events such as onset of puberty etc.

It is important that your child's illness is discovered early because it can be life-threatening. Brittle bones, weak kidneys and depression are just some of the consequences of anorexia on the afflicted person’s health

What Should Be Done If You Are The Parents

Let go of the idea that your child only has to put on weight to become healthy again.  Low weight is only an external sign of deeper problems. Seek help of a qualified therapist who can determine the causes of your child's anorexia.

Confront your child with your knowledge of the illness and motivate them to have therapy. However, do not force them. Tell them what you feel and think and speak to them about your fears and worries. Avoid criticism and accusations. Most often it makes sense to involve the family in therapy.

Your child is probably very strong-willed, otherwise they could not starve themselves so much. Tell them that they can also make mistakes and that they should treat themselves to something good. Show your child, through examples from your own life, that you are not a perfect person either and need support from others. They will perhaps follow your example and seek help.