Parents have an important role in detecting the early signs of an eating disorder in their child. As a parent, you have a front-row seat to the daily behaviors, emotions, conflicts, and coping mechanisms that your child exhibits. You can tell if your son or daughter is having a rough day by the way he or she manifests emotions. Perhaps your son gets frustrated and kicks objects around the house. Or your daughter is in conflict with a friend and isolates herself in her room. Many of these behaviors are normal coping mechanisms for the developmental phase that the child is currently in, and they learn more about themselves and the world by utilizing a wide range of emotional expressions and behaviors — sometime to the befuddlement of their parents.
How do you know when a child might be developing a coping mechanism that can lead to destructive behaviors such as an eating disorder? And what do you do? As a parent, you have the opportunity to be a soothing and comforting support to your child as he or she navigates through life and through your supportive presence, you can model adaptive and healthy coping mechanisms.
Someday Melissa is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 by Judy Avrin following the death of her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder. Someday Melissa’s mission is “to promote recognition and awareness of eating disorders and the importance of early treatment”, and the organization created a documentary about Melissa’s journey in order to raise awareness about the dangers of these disorders. The goal “is to show the film, speak to groups, provide educational materials and have a vital website and blog that are continually updated with information and resources; to share stories of recovery and hope.”
Below is a poster of the film:
In her recent blog post on Someday Melissa’s blog, Judy writes about the “Power of Parental Denial”. When a doctor suggested to her that he suspected Melissa had an eating disorder, Judy refused to believe it. She had been careful not to talk about weight or body image in front of Melissa because she was aware of the sensitivity of those subjects herself. She states that the “signs of Melissa’s eating disorder — desire to lose weight, constipation, increased exercising, mood swings — in retrospect seem lime flashing neon warning signs that should have set off alarms.” But they didn’t. Why?
Judy continues to explain that beginning signs of eating disorders can appear like “normal” adolescent behavior and can seem to be explained by other causes. Doctors are just as crucial as parents for noticing early signs of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, and they sometimes do not point them out — perhaps because people struggling with eating disorders are very skilled at hiding or ‘explaining’ their behaviors.
Many people who are struggling with eating disorders can appear at a normal weight, making it more challenging to detect the symptoms. Those struggling with bulimia nervosa are rarely underweight and are sometimes a bit overweight, and with the stereotype that ‘people with eating disorders are typically emaciated’ still rampant, many are overlooked. Judy also points out the power of shame. Many parents as well as their children do not want to admit that the child has an eating disorder due to the shameful acts and behaviors that can surround these disorders. The shame can become overpowering and lead to an even deeper cycle of denial and control.
Judy’s mission is to educate parents, teachers, doctors, therapists, friends, and family members about the signs of an eating disorder so that treatment can be sought at the earliest possible time. Early intervention drastically raises the recovery rate for eating disorders, as the behaviors may be less entrenched and the emotions less intense.
There is a wonderful resource for parents created by the National Eating Disorders Association called the Parent ToolKit. This, along with parents’ attention to and involvement in their child’s emotional self can save many lives.