This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. During this week, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) wants everyone to be aware of the signs and dangers of eating disorders. All this week (from February 22, 2015 until February 28, 2015, a number of famous buildings will be illuminated in blue and green. NEDA is asking for supporters to take pictures when you see one of these buildings and post it on social media (hashtag #NEDAwareness). There is a list of buildings on their site, atNEDAwareness Building Lightings.
Addressing eating problems early can help prevent an eating disorder to develop.As a parent, what signs should you be on the lookout for in your child? The following should help:
**Weight changes **- Growing children, including preteens and adolescents should be regularly gaining weight. If you notice your child is no longer gaining weight or is losing weight, this could be a sign that they are intentionally trying to keep the weight off. In the preteen years, this can cause problems by delaying puberty.
Anxiety and stress - If your child’s stress levels seem high, or have increased, especially when combined with weight loss or not gaining weight, this can be a sign of an eating disorder, as they are closely associated with anxiety.
Obsession with weight and size - Children and teens with eating disorders are often obsessed with their weight and size. They might weigh themselves several times a day or worry obsessively about fitting into the "right" size clothes. They might develop a fear of becoming fat.
Obsession with food and portion sizes - If your child starts to limit certain foods or reduce calorie intake it could be an early sign of an eating disorder. Some of the ways children hide reducing food intake is by covering food with condiments and eating mostly the condiments, cutting food into very small pieces, replacing solid foods with beverages, eliminating types of foods, such as starches. Becoming vegetarian to avoid eating meats.
**Obsession with exercise **- In addition to reducing the amount of food that is eaten, those with eating disorders sometimes increase their exercise levels, to offset calorie intake. If your child becomes fixated on exercise, is inflexible about deviating from exercise schedules or if the time spent on exercise seems high or continues to increase it could be a sign that your child is trying to compensate for calorie consumption.
**Avoid mealtimes **- Children and adolescents with eating disorders might avoid family meals because they don’t want anyone to notice how little they are eating. They might continually make excuses, such as "I have a school project to complete" or indicate they will make their own meal later.
**Disappearing after mealtime **- Those with bulimia will eat a complete meal, and then go to the bathroom to vomit in order to purge themselves of the food. Pay attention if your child sits down to eat and then suddenly disappears.
Physical symptoms - Eating too little or purging foods can cause physical symptoms as well as weight loss. Your child might feel cold all the time, have stomach pains, dizziness, dry skin, thinning of hair, yellow skin, cold hands, muscle weakness and, for girls, missed or irregular periods.
Emotional and social concerns - Besides physical symptoms your child might withdraw from social activities, especially if they involve eating, avoid spending time with friends, become depressed or irritable.
Remember, although eating disorders are more common in girls, boys and men can also develop eating disorders. While it is important to pay attention to your daughter’s eating habits, don’t dismiss potential problems with your son because you think eating disorders only occur in girls.
If you notice some of these signs in your child or teen, set up an appointment with your child’s doctor. Finding and treating disordered eating may help to prevent it developing into an eating disorder, which can can health problems - both physical and emotional.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.