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Are your child's eating behaviours signs of an eating disorder? Here's what you need to know

As a parent, dealing with picky eaters is not uncommon. From refusal to eat anything green to a preferred diet of cheese, noodles, and chicken have learned to navigate battles over food with your child. But at what point should you begin to worry that your child's eating habits are something more significant to worry about?

Your landing on this article is a good indicator that you are concerned about your child's eating habits. You are not alone. In fact, a recent study found that 22% of the children had disordered eating.

We want the best for our children, and with that care and consideration, it is common to question whether they eat healthily. You may have noticed some concerning behaviors with your child's eating patterns. Whether it is refusing to eat, overeating, or binge eating, this article will guide you through spotting the signs, how to approach your child, and finding the proper support.

It is essential to think about eating as a relationship not only with food but with our mental health and sense of self. When your child displays signs of an unhealthy relationship with food, it may be an underlying sign of other emotional health concerns.

Spotting the Signs

Observing and noticing behaviour patterns in your child's eating is the first step in helping them. If you are seeing your child engaging in one or more of the following behaviors, it may be a warning sign of disordered eating:

  • "Food restricting" is a significant restriction of caloric intake beyond what is required to maintain physical wellness.

  • Monitor for drastic changes in eating habits, including eating more or less than usual.

  • Watch for fluctuations in weight without any apparent cause.

  • Pay attention to how your child talks about food. Obsessing about food, calories, or body weight may be signs of distress.

  • Monitor if your child is hiding food secretly. This behavior may be suggestive of feelings of shame or guilt.

What to Say?

It is important to talk to your child directly, but compassionately, if you notice one of these warning signs consistently.

Choose the Right Moment: Finding the perfect time to talk is crucial. Seek a quiet, private space where you and your child can talk without distractions. It's essential that they feel comfortable and safe during this discussion.

Listen with Empathy: As you begin the conversation, actively listen to what your child has to say. Let them express their feelings and concerns without judgment. Acknowledge their emotions, whether it's fear, guilt, or confusion. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you're there to support them.

Offer Unconditional Support: Reassure your child that your love is unwavering, irrespective of their eating habits or body size. Emphasize that you're on their side and are committed to helping them through any challenges they may be facing.

Open-Ended Questions: Instead of bombarding your child with questions, use open-ended inquiries encouraging them to share their thoughts and feelings. For example, you can ask, "How have you been feeling about your eating habits lately?" or "Is there anything you'd like to talk to me about regarding food?"

Resist Blame and Criticism: It's crucial to avoid blaming or criticizing your child. Blaming them for their eating habits can lead to defensiveness and resistance. Instead, focus on their overall well-being and express your concern for their health and happiness.

Avoid Ultimatums: Threats regarding food should be avoided at all costs. Such tactics can exacerbate the situation and potentially harm your child's relationship with food. Instead, focus on collaboration and finding solutions together.

Comparison-Free Zone: Never compare your child to others or even their siblings regarding eating habits or body shape. Each person's relationship with food is unique, and comparisons can breed resentment and insecurity.

Where to go for help?

If you think you and your child need additional help, many qualified and caring professionals are available. These resources include:

  • Start with a visit to your child's GP. They can assess your child's physical health and provide guidance or referrals to specialists.

  • Seek a therapist or counsellor who specializes in eating disorders.

  • Consider joining a local or online support group for parents. Sharing experiences can be reassuring and informative.

Sometimes, the best place to begin is on the internet. It is normal to feel scared and not want to face the possibility of your child having an eating disorder. There are many reputable online resources, including the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). NEDA offers a helpline and resources for parents and individuals struggling with eating disorders. F.E.A.S.T. is a global support and education community of and for parents of those with eating disorders.

Remember, addressing eating habits in children requires patience and empathy. With your love and help, they can overcome any challenges related to their eating habits.

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