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Do you suspect an eating disorder?

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Do you suspect an eating disorder?

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Do you suspect an eating disorder?

I worried and fussed around for almost a year before we got appropriate help for my teen's eating disorder.  I could see signs that all was not right with my teen, but everytime I mentioned it to a doctor they seemed to shrug their shoulders, and they certainly did not give me access to the help we needed.  Not all doctors are like that, but some are. If you suspect an eating disorder it is often good to go and see a more recently qualified doctor, as they are more up to date on current best treatment.  


Write down the things that are concerning you about your child's eating, not eating, binges or purges. If they consistently eat weird things, prepared in odd ways, disappear during meal times, say they have already eaten, or pretend to be asleep, obsess about food but don't actually eat it, if they are cold all the time, if they increasingly limit the types of food they eat, if they cut out whole food groups or a million other things that may indicate an eating disorder. I'm just a parent with no medical training, what I am saying is, write everything down and take it to your doctor, and if they don't take you seriously, see another doctor..It is also possible to self refer to an eating disorder clinic in some places..


Meanwhile google the Butterfly Foundation. Don't let it drag on for a year or more as I did: eating disorders are serious and life threatening and there is help out there, help that does work.

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Re: Do you suspect an eating disorder?

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Thanks for raising this @Elena It's an incredibly important topic for parents of teenagers. Both male and female.


Everything you say is spot on. Looking out for those things is a great way to catch it early. 

One of the most important developments we've made in this area is by expanding the language from eating disorders (i.e.anorexia and bulimia) to disordered eating which includes: restrictive eating, cutting out entire food groups, fear of types of food, obsessive and/or compulsive thinking around eating / weight / dieting etc. So now, if a young person has a preoccupation with eating/not eating or weight gain/loss then it's called disordered eating and needs support.


We know that a lot of the time this is a young person's way to feel in control of their lives. The thinking is "I can't control X but I can control what I eat and what happens to my body as a result." Which is why forcing them to eat often exacerbates issues because it amplifies their feelings of having no control. Stress is another major contributor. My daughter was one of four girls in her friend group that devevloped disordered eating during their HSC year. Again it was a response to how out of control they felt (if I fail my life is OVER) that they addressed by controlling what they put in their mouths.


I also completely agree with @Elena's comments about doctors. We started there, as you always have to, and I was really disappointed by the lack of knowledge the GP had. Her response was for my daughter to "have a milkshake between meals to gain some weight" a sentence that made my daughter go into absolute panic. So other than getting a referral, I would highly reccommend heading straight for a specialist. Which for us was an amazing service offering psychologists who all specialised in disordered eating. Here's the Butterfly Foundation that Elena mentioned. It's a great place to start. You can get information and resources for yourself as well as 24 hour support for your teenager.


And as some of you may know, it's no longer just a female issue. For those of you with sons who may be showing behaviours that are starting to concern you, have a read of this factsheet on males and eating disorders that includes a 'warning signs' section.







Re: Do you suspect an eating disorder?

Hi there,

Sorry to hear about your daughter. I’ve been in your daughters shoes. I’ve had a concerned Mum like you and I’ve tried the support she recommended to me that most people in her and your shoes believe should work. In my case Counselling failed epically (I lasted 1 session), because most counsellors give advice that based on non-experiential learning.That session only reinforced my belief that a counsellor would not get it. I never sought out counselling again and stopped on my own.

I’ve looked into recovery models and while some are good and may work, they wouldn’t have worked for me.

I hate giving things a label but your daughters ‘situation’ Is a very shameful, taxing, emotional, vicious cycle that you can’t possibly understand or relate to unless you are going through it or have been through it. Tbh, when I was in her position, I couldn’t comprehend enough why’s to help me get to the how to stop part of the equation. But I figured out enough to stop eventually....

Here’s what I learnt:

- bulimia has an average life cycle of 10 years

- like any addiction or habit change, an individual will not stop, alter or change their behaviour unless they want to

- habits don’t stop they’re substituted with new ones. That’s imperative for recovery. Identifying an activity that is healthy to replace the unhealthy one.

- One nominated support person is helpful for the person wanting to change. That person must be incredibly understanding and sensitive if they haven’t been through what the person seeking help has. I feel the best support person is someone who can relate. That support person needs to develop goals led by the person they are helping depending on ‘how in the thick of it’ they are. For example, If a person is bingeing and purging 3 times a day ... a goal of quitting cold turkey is unrealistic. Why? Because they are highly emotionally tormented, the stomach acid and gut bacteria changes more the more often one purges making the purger want to end the urge to purge as result by bingeing again. They want to stop because it’s horrible, physically traumatic, embarrassing, unhealthy and they feel out of control, guilty to no end and hopeless /helpless because they can’t figure out the whys and how’s to stop. A mentor needs to create a strategy that’s achievable and occasionally counter intuitive. A goal could start with how long the person purging thinks they can go without doing it again. It could start with 3 days, The next goal could be 1 week etc. This is a work in progress and the mentor should only encourage the purger not to binge when they reach out if they reach out before the goal period and if they are so emotionally detailed tell them it’s okay to and to let them know when they want to reach out to reset a new more achievable goal. The model won’t work if the purger feels so embarrassed and ashamed that they want to avoid putting themselves through that level of shame again.

A lot of understanding questions need to be asked ...

- why did the purging start ?

- have they stopped before and what did their life environment look like at the time ?

- what or who is incentivising them to repeat the pattern and or the pros and cons of the pattern

- what support and environment they need to stop?

- pressure or negative things in their life?

- why they feel out of control ?

Brainstorming, regularly revisiting the pros and cons, constantly evaluating the positives and negatives in their life over a time continuum and pivoting and resetting in a student led manner is also important. Mirror therapy and self directed reading on psychology is helpful too.

Feeling safe, understood and supported is essential to successful long term change. The reality that you need to make peace with is that this is someone else’s journey and the timeline of the journey is up to them. It simply may take a long time for them to stop. Change takes time and the best medicine for your daughter is respect, empathy, love, patience, tolerance, acceptance, support and unconditional love and discretion. You’ve got to make her see that you love her and want her to feel better. Feeling better cones with education, self love, direction, safety, belonging and the wisdom to know that it will get better and that it will take time.

All the best. Feel free to touch base with me if you want to talk.