Eating disorders are complex medical and psychiatric disorders that can cause serious health problems for children and teens and, unfortunately, have increased tremendously during the pandemic. The National Eating Disorders Association helpline reported a 40% increase in calls from March 2020. Approximately 35% of those who called were 13-to-17 years old, which is a 30% increase from before the pandemic.
Seek medical evaluation
Eating disorders can cause a wide range of medical challenges. Schedule a visit with your doctor to ensure your child’s health is not at immediate risk.
Be honest and use “I” statements
Be open and honest about your concerns and stick to the facts. Point out what you have observed. For example, “I have noticed you stopped eating dinner with us.”
Be caring, but firm
Show compassion and understanding by listening to your child. Ask your child if they have their own reasons for wanting to change. If any of the above symptoms are present, remain firm in tackling problematic eating behaviors and the need for your child to seek professional support.
Avoid commenting on your teen’s weight or size, or on others’. Focusing on shape and weight may send the message that the way someone looks is most important. Instead, practice body positivity and appreciation of qualities outside of appearances, such as curiosity and a sense of humor.
Model healthy attitudes and behaviors
Stay away from labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. Allow all foods in your home. Encourage balanced eating of a variety of foods.
Seek professional help
Most people with eating disorders require professional help to get better. Seek treatment from a team of providers, including a medical doctor, dietician, and psychologist. Getting timely treatment increases a person’s chances of recovery.
If your child expresses thoughts about wanting to kill themselves or is saying unsafe things, or if you suspect medical complications from eating disorder behaviors (such as fainting) call 911 or bring your child to the nearest Emergency Department.
Find a mental health provider
Check your insurance website or the back of your insurance card.
Explore Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool.
Call CalOptima Behavioral Health (Orange County, CA).
If your child expresses thoughts of wanting to harm themselves or others, call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest Emergency Department.
National Eating Disorders Helpline
Text “NEDA” to 741741
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMA) www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)