Can You Prevent Your Child's Eating Disorder?

BlogHer Original Post

I asked Dr. Bermudez about antidepressants, since there's been so much in the news about their negative impacts on kids and adolescents. He responded similarly to what I've seen in the PPD and maternal health circles -- you have to analyze if the risk is higher or the benefit is higher. If you have a teen that's so anxious she can't leave the house, the benefit might be higher. It's case-by-case, but it's also a good reason to consult professionals and -- this is my opinion -- more than one. Any time someone wants to medicate your kids, I think it's time to get a second, third and fourth opinion, and none of them should be Dr. Google.

When Is the Right Time for an Eating Disorder Intervention?

Any time is the right time. There is no "too late." Dr. Bermudez said:

Ideally, everybody would be picked up when they're just changing their feelings about their weight -- early intervention is ideal. On the other hand, eating disorders have a window of opportunity to respond to treatment that is enhanced with brain maturity through the late twenties. It's easier to accept and benefit from treatment as an adult. I've seen people recover after forty years of having an eating disorder -- recovering the way you would define recovery in such circumstances. Recovery can look different. We all have the idealized definition of what recovery would be like, but that may not be practical or realistic for everyone.

People have wide variability in their ability to recover, and there are different degrees of anorexia and bulimia. We may see someone who's been at it six months and won't do well even if we intervene right away, and the opposite. Don't give up or define situations as hopeless. Thorough assessment and treatment are always timely, it's never too late.

Eating disorders are defined as serious mental health problems. They're not just physical problems -- they are mental health disorders with a neurobiological components. Very serious medical complications can come about as a downstream effect of the eating disorder itself. And, since the disease is biopsychosocial -- our culture and the way we live play a role. None of those components are determinants -- it's not like 100% of the time you're going to have it, like Down's Syndrome. If you have the genetic code for Down's Syndrome, you have it. Eating disorders are not like that. We inherit vulnerabilities and protective factors.

Summary for Parents Worried About Eating Disorders

Since I started writing about my experience with eating disorders, I've received emails from primarily anorexics and their family members from all over the world. The biggest complaint I've heard in these desperate emails is difficulty with understanding what's causing the problem and how to treat it. I know from experience that eating disorders can present as vanity or overdeveloped normal dieting behaviors. Other people are confused, and eating disorders are such a secretive thing that people around the sufferer don't realize she's gone off the rails until they can see the impacts on her body as it shrinks or puffs out or impacts her in some other way physically. To complicate things, the sufferer will probably not admit or even realize she's got a problem until it's really advanced.

I found Dr. Bermudez's words both frustrating and comforting. As a parent, I want to know THIS MINUTE if my daughter is on the fast-track to bulimia or anorexia just because she inherited half of my genes. I want to know if I can insulate her from it by taking away all media influences and refusing to let her plaster JUICY across the butt of her sweatpants. I want to know, in my worst moments, if we should just pack up and move to a deserted island where we could completely remove the "environment" part of the equation. But I can't. We live here, in America, in 2011.

There are limits to what we can control -- should control -- about our kids' environment. So while I'm frustrated there is no hard-and-fast checklist, I'm comforted by the "trait-to-state" advice Dr. Bermudez gave. I'm relieved in a weird way to hear the mood disorders often predate the eating disorder. I have a mood disorder, and I've been able to manage it once I found the right methodology. Awareness that it existed was extremely helpful. I'm hopeful if I'm watchful of my daughter's traits, I can then help her truly funnel all her energy -- even if she doesn't develop a mood disorder -- into creating assets instead of liabilities with her personality as she moves through the world. Hell, none of us is perfect. But what a world -- if instead of beating ourselves up about our prevailing personality traits -- we instead focused on how to use them to our best advantage?

Eating Disorder Resources

As Dr. Bermudez pointed out, resources can be scanty in some parts of the country. As a parent, I encourage anyone who is suffering herself or has a friend or family member that appears to be suffering to check into these resources. But please also realize that there IS a mental illness component to eating disorders and your friend or family member may be resistant or defensive to insinuations anything is wrong. My offer stands: is my email address. I'm not a doctor, but I'm recovered, and I do understand how it feels. If you're reading this post, you might be in pain -- and I wish you the best. Seek help, it's never too
late, and life is easier on the other side.

Related Reading:

My debut young adult novel is The Obvious Game, published InkSpell Publishing. The Obvious Game is based on my experience with anorexia. I'm represented by Eric Myers of The Spieler Agency.

The Obvious Game is available in paperback and ebook (all formats) online at Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, InkSpell Publishing and Indiebound. If you are a librarian and are having trouble finding my book, please write me at to purchase the book at the 40% author discount price.

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.

Trending Now