According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders carry the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Eating disorders are often seen paired with severe body image issues, and are being seen locally in children as young as nine.
The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss, while bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of food bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
Because eating disorders can be potentially life-threatening, it is important for parents to be aware of the signs of these conditions.
Key warning signs include inquiries about dieting, concerns about weight, apparent restriction of food intake, increased, excessive exercise, strange, rigid eating behaviors, making excuses to skip meals and indication of purging, such as frequent bathroom visits, empty laxative bottles, and evidence of vomiting leftover in the bathroom.
Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to help their children develop healthy relationships with food and avoid onset of body image issues and/or eating disorders. First and foremost, parents should model healthy eating behaviors for their children, starting at young ages.
Avoid stocking the pantry with ‘junk’ foods, and instead fill the refrigerator with whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. For individuals who already have an eating disorder, having easily accessible junk food around the house can trigger a binge.
Emphasize the importance of healthy, well-balanced breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and try setting time each night for home-prepared, family dinners. Research shows that family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.
If parents suspect a developing eating disorder in their children or teens, it is important to seek professional help as well.
Early intervention and treatment is key, and Cone Health has an exceptional network of behavioral health specialists, dieticians, primary care physicians and other related healthcare providers that are dedicated to providing proper treatment to individuals in the community dealing with body image issues and eating disorders.
Dr. Jeannie Sykes is a registered dietitian at Cone Health Family Medicine Center.She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Vermont in 1976, and a Masters of Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980. Dr. Sykes earned a PhD in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1986. She has worked at Cone Health Family Medicine Center since 1990.