An estimated 24 million people within the United States struggle with an eating disorder. 95% of them are between the ages of 12 and 25. 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. To many people, these are just meaningless numbers that sit beside a billion other statistics no one does anything about. But to the parent whose child is obsessed with food (or the lack thereof), these numbers mean something. Their child is part of those numbers; their child contributes to those numbers.
Eating disorders used to be a primarily secular problem. But this is no longer the case. As the world has moved into the church and smartphones have made their grand entrance into the back pocket of every Christian teen, Anorexia and Bulimia have begun to overrun the lives of the girls (and some boys) who sit in Sunday School and Wednesday night prayer meeting every week. Perhaps what is more frightening is the number of parents who have no idea what’s going on in their own house, under their own nose.
How Can You Know if this Problem Has Come to Your House?
- Watch for dietary restriction. Restriction is when someone starts to remove certain foods from their diet. Teens with eating disorders tend to eliminate more and more over time, and usually remove items that have a higher calorie count. Other indicators might be teenagers who are talking about becoming vegetarian or vegan, insisting on cooking themselves special meals, eating only certain items on their plate, or binge-eating high calorie foods with the intention of purging afterwards.
- Listen for repetitive excuses that are food related. “I’m too full,” or “I ate at a friends house an hour ago” are common ones. Is your teen avoiding the breakfast, lunch or dinner table on a frequent basis?
- Observe your teen’s eating mannerisms. Are they drinking exorbitant amounts of water with their meal? Are they separating their food, or picking at it and hardly eating any? Are they binging on a huge number of calories and then disappearing to the bathroom afterwards? Are laxatives disappearing from your medicine cabinet?
- Beware of your teen’s Internet usage. The web is a buzz with activity for teens who are practicing any type of eating disorder. From cult-like forums that promote talking to and obeying Ana or Mia, to Thinspo (Anorexic pornography), to chat rooms and forums where ED kids collaborate, danger is everywhere. Apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope are increasingly being used to fuel the fire. Parents should be aware that most kids who struggle with an eating disorder are not obsessing over it alone. The large majority of them are accelerating in their addiction through the web.
- Observe your teen’s social patterns. Many teens who struggle with an eating disorder become socially withdrawn, or fall in with a crowd that practices their eating disorder. There is, of course, the exception, and not all teens who are withdrawn have an eating disorder. But be especially alert at social gatherings that involve food. The majority of anorexic and bulimic teens prefer not to eat in a crowded setting, and struggle to engage in healthy social relationships. To compensate, many teens develop unhealthy or abusive relationships. For example, teen girls who struggle with eating disorders frequently turn to promiscuity at some point, to fill the relational void which their eating disorder has created.
If you are concerned that your teen might be battling an eating disorder, it’s important to get the right kind of help, and approach them in the right way. To learn more about how to handle eating disorders in a Christ-centered way, check out my new book, Loving the Food Obsessed Girl – available for purchase on Amazon.com.