Anorexia used to be a disorder that affected teenage girls - girls who were typically in dance or athletics and pushed their body toward excellence. Now it's affecting 9-12 year olds, with girls as young as 7 being clinically diagnosed. What's happening to our girls? How is their perception of beauty and confidence becoming so twisted?
"In the last two years, we've actually had to add a treatment track to deal with kids ages 9 to 11,"
says Margaret Kelley, clinical nurse manager for the eating disorders treatment program at The Children's Hospital in Denver. The National Eating Disorder Association found that:
-- 42% of kids in 1st thru 3rd grades wish they were thinner
-- 81% of 10 year-olds are afraid of becoming fat
-- 51% of 9 and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet
Wonder if your daughter could be falling into the trap of an eating disorder? Look for these signs:
Weight loss, wearing baggy clothes, hair loss, increased mood swings, perfectionism, increased desire to exercise, playing with her food, frequent trips to the bathroom - especially following meal time, always cold, dizziness and headaches, negative self-talk and increased language of food, eating, exercise and body image.
If your daughter fits the bill, talk to her immediately. Understand she will likely be defensive and deny the situation. Offer support and safety to her rather than condemnation and fear. Eating disorders can take root for a variety of different reasons. While body-image is the one reason we think of most often, girls who are perfectionists and find themselves in a difficult season at home or at school can allow their stress to manifest in a need to "control" the situation. When all other situations are out of control, the one thing that she can control is her food.
If you're fighting the battle against anorexia alongside your daughter, keep in mind that your words are powerful:
- Examine Your Heart. What are your own attitudes about food? Does she hear you speak negatively about yourself, your weight or about others who may be overweight? She listens closely to you and watches everything you say and do. Confess to her if you've been wrong in your thinking of beauty and self-image and turn to the scriptures together for God's truth.
- Focus on Feelings and Relationship. Not food. Recall to your daughter specific times you became concerned about her eating habits. Explain that you think these signs would indicate a greater problem. Avoid accusatory statements that might make her defensive and look into her heart. Anorexia is often a cry for help. Knowing that you care about her - not the food - will be a comfort.
- Be Her Rock. Set consistent and caring limits for your daughter. Know how to respond in patience and grace when she desires to skip a meal or "eat alone." Work together to set realistic goals; be it weekly weigh-ins or calories per day. Remain firm when the pleas of "Don't make me… I promise it will stop," come to the conversation.
- Show Her Truth. Spend time in the scriptures together. God's word has the first and last say in all that we do (2 Corinthians 5:13-14 MSG) Find out what He has to say about beauty, perfection, stress, control and confidence. Promote self-esteem without focusing on beauty. Help her find ways to express her feelings; stress, fear, anxiety, control or whatever her underlying emotion is. Give her a journal. Take painting or pottery classes together. Encourage her to play an instrument. Give her something to turn to as an outlet.
- Get Rid of Guilt. Know it's not your fault. Parents often feel as if they are responsible for their child's eating disorder. Know that it's something you really don't have control over. Abandon the blame game and move forward in pursuit of healing without dwelling on what you "could have" or "should have" done.
- Pray. For her. With her. With others over her. "The prayer of a righteous person (woman) is powerful." James 5:16
If your daughter is fighting anorexia, find encouragement in Sheila's story. Your daughter is more than a conquerer! (Romans 8:37) Even if this isn't something your daughter is struggling with right now, it's likely one of her friends is. As Secret Keeper Girl Moms, we want to communicate with our daughters about issues like this before the world does. Bring it up with her. Ask if she's ever considered dieting. Are any of her friends on a diet? Open the lines of communication before this is a battle you have to fight.