Taken from the Auburn Pub which is located HERE.
The holiday season is full of tempting treats and is often a time when many people are indulging in sweets and rich holiday foods. Lately, there has been an increasing emphasis on healthy eating and body weight for our school-age children. The primary focus, however, has been on addressing the obesity epidemic and the rising rates of physical illnesses, such as diabetes. Of course, this is an important area to work on, but at the same time we need to be aware of other eating problems that can cause serious harm to kids. With so much emphasis placed on “ideal” body weight and constant talk of diets, we need to be careful that we do not overlook those who are struggling with serious body image problems and potentially deadly eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
Anorexia is an eating disorder often characterized by extreme thinness, fear of gaining weight, body image distortions and extremely restricted eating. Bulimia is characterized by recurring episodes of binge-eating large amounts of food. These binge episodes are followed by behaviors that attempt to compensate for the overeating (e.g., excessive exercise, laxative use, forced vomiting). Bulimia can sometimes be harder to see because those who suffer from this eating disorder do not usually have the extreme weight loss that occurs in anorexia.
Who suffers from eating disorders? Most people with eating disorders are female, but approximately 10 to 15 percent are male. Almost all people suffering from eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
So what warning signs may appear when a child or student has an eating disorder? Weight loss is an early sign, though this might be hard to see at first. Weight loss can be hidden by baggy clothes. Many who suffer from anorexia possess a strong sense of perfectionism and may do well in their school work. If a child seems to be distracted or fatigued, you could ask about what might be going on as far as nutrition, sleep, or other issues. Skipping meals, following an increasingly restricted diet (that allows for fewer and fewer types of food) and not wanting to eat in front of other people are also early warning signs.
Another area that needs to be monitored by both educators and parents is the use of the Internet. There are many websites and groups dedicated to promoting (yes — promoting!) these eating disorders. Members of these groups provide tips to and encourage each other to continue with these disordered eating and weight loss behaviors.
Lastly, those dealing with eating disorders sometimes say that they tried to share their worries about weight and eating, but that those concerns were brushed off by parents and doctors. As educators and parents, we need to be sure that we are listening to kids when they do open up, and remember that the information they share may be limited. Further questioning will probably be needed to assess whether there is a more serious underlying problem with food and eating. Also, when educators and parents keep an open and welcoming stance when it comes to sharing problems, kids may feel more comfortable turning to adults when they need help.
It is important that we, as adults, are aware of how we are discussing weight and dieting issues in front of children. Images of celebrities that are prominent in the media do not match well with what most people look like. In addition, these images are often altered dramatically to achieve a level of perfection that is not natural. These issues should be discussed with our students.
Eating disorders are a mental illness and sadly, they also have the highest mortality (or death) rate of all mental illnesses. Approximately 10 to 13 percent of sufferers die from complications of the illness. So it is essential that treatment is sought from professionals who specialize in and who have demonstrated success in treating eating disorders.