Mental health problems in adolescents are appearing at younger ages and everything indicates that they have worsened with the pandemic. One of them is eating disorders , a serious pathology that manifests itself essentially through symptoms and obsessions related to food and body image. However, we should not consider these disorders as a product of the superficiality or vanity of those who suffer from them. At the base of EDs are deep psychological problems and relational difficulties.
Although each type of disorder usually has certain symptoms that help us to identify it precisely, there are some behaviors that should put us on alert and ask for professional help immediately . Adriana Esteban, a psychologist at Instituto Centta, alerts us to some warning signs of these disorders:
- Isolation : it begins with the food spaces and ends up generalizing to many of the social activities. Adolescents stop sharing common spaces at home, isolate themselves in their room (they feel it as a safe space), stop going to social plans and always through some logical excuse or argument that avoids any possible judgment.
- Distance and change of character : they stop sharing emotional content of what happens to them, they count less and less, they avoid expressing how they feel because they believe that they will not understand them or they will receive judgment. Their character changes, they become more inhibited, aggressive and have difficulty controlling their impulses. There is so much to be saved, that they necessarily change their attitude to one that is much more difficult to connect with.
- Relationship with the body : they can begin to obsessively observe themselves in front of the mirror and take compulsive photos or just the opposite, they completely avoid their image and, therefore, they reject their gaze in the mirror or refuse to take photos. The way you dress can also change. Those who want to show themselves will wear tight clothing, while those who want to avoid it will wear loose fitting clothes and larger sizes.
What should we do if our child has an ED?
The family constitutes a fundamental role in Eating Disorders. “While family functioning can be conducive to being part of the origin and maintenance of the disease, they can also be key when it comes to recovery, “ says Paula Valero, a psychologist specializing in ED at Instituto Centta, who gives us a series of guidelines that, together with professional therapy, can help to create a suitable environment at home and deal with eating disorders:
- Don’t be hyper-vigilant about eating behaviors . Mealtime is often stressful for people with eating disorders, and this could be a source of tension that only exacerbates the problem.
- Avoid comments about food . Some comments that are normalized in our daily lives can generate a lot of stress in a person with ED and even reinforce feelings of guilt and discomfort that aggravate the symptoms. Therefore, comments about how much or what you eat, about the calories of the food or whether it is “healthy” or “unhealthy” should be avoided.
- Avoid comments about physical appearance. In most people with eating disorders there is an overvaluation of body image. Those who suffer from these disorders have a strong association of physical appearance with personal worth. Therefore, comments about the physical appearance of the person, about our body or that of third parties should be avoided.
- Avoid comments that stigmatize their mental health (eg “that is absurd”, “you are behaving like crazy”, “what you are doing is silly”, “you are making our lives bitter”) or that invalidate their emotions (eg . “Stop thinking about that”, “it’s not so bad, others are worse than you”, “it’s all in your head, don’t think about it any more.” The latter also transmits the message that we are belittling their problems, aggravating them even more.
- The privacy and time of the patient must be respected. If they present pathological behaviors, it will be something that is worked on in therapy and on which the therapist should be notified, but it is not advisable to make comments or prohibit the patient from making them.
- Be patient. Eating Behavior Disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that often lead to relapses. Do not expect the changes to be immediate, learning new healthier habits and other ways of managing emotions is achieved progressively.
- When in doubt, ask . You don’t have to have the answer to everything. You are human. Having communication with him is very important. Ask him what you can do to make him feel more comfortable or supported and contact the therapist whenever you need it.
- Do not neglect the family relationship . It is possible that the adolescent, when going through a difficult time, may be irritable or in a low mood. Plan fun or enjoyable activities to show that you are interested in having a good relationship and a family climate that favors treatment.
- Do not forget that you are not responsible for her recovery and, although you can play an important role in supporting her in this process, you do not have a duty to “make her heal.”
- Remember to take care of yourself too . Helping someone with eating disorders is not always easy. If you notice that your mental health is being affected, don’t be afraid to seek help. You too deserve support and attention, and the better you are emotionally, the more effective you can support your child.
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