Why a parent of young children should know about eating disorders

Last months, I learnt a very valuable lesson from my 11 yrs old son.

At home I always discuss and comment about how food impacts our health, like “try to eat less fat meat, dad, considering your heart situation”, “mum, stop eating deserts - sugar is not great for your memory”, “I don’t eat processed carbs as I will gain weight straight away”. I always thought it was good to talk about healthy eating in front of my kids as it will prepare them to grow into healthy eating adults.

However, children hear adults talking about food, but they do not have a full knowledge to apply iwhat they hear correctly. My 11 yrs old son decided to be a vegetarian for a wrong reason (to consume less calories) and without adjusting his diet (as he does not like eggs, lentils or other normal sources of protein for vegetarians). With our busy lives and long work/school hours, I did not realise the magnitude of change in my son’s diet for a few days until I noticed that my boy was getting unusually tired in the mornings.

Of cause it is not a proper eating disorder, but it was serious enough for me to panic.

The number of teenagers impacted by eating disorders is growing and 25% of those impacted are male According to MQMentalHealth.org, 1 in 5 females aged 16–24 has an eating disorder. There are cases of eating disorders starting as young as 10.

To change my son’s eating choices, we had a full discussion with him about why a growing body needs calories and protein to build muscles (I had to show scientific research - those kids do not take your word for granted any more). I had to visualise the daily requirements of protein and carbs.

Secondly, I had to be there for after-school snacks and dinners to make sure we restore normal eating habits. Family meals together are even more valuable to me as I can notice any change in the attitude towards the food.

Lastly, I prohibited any diet discussions at home in front of the children and I avoid any comments like “she looks great after loosing a lot of weight” when a child can hear. I focus on health issues of the right food choices but reduced the discussions about it not to turn anything into obsession.

If you want to get a better understanding of the issue, NHS or Beat Eating Disorders UK offer a good overview.

I am learning to accept that my children are growing fast and challenges that seemed several years ahead of me as a mum are suddenly here.