The holidays and school break are bringing your children back home. It’s an ideal time to connect with your college student again and learn more about how they are doing.
It’s also a time where you may begin to pick up on some concerning issues. You may notice eating habits, mood or social isolation that are unusual and cause concern, something you may not have ever seen before in your child. Eating disorders or disordered eating are often triggered during the college years.
The stresses, the pressures, the changes that come with higher education can be the trigger. However, eating disorders are not a phase. They could be serious and fatal. If you notice what you suspect may be a problem, getting help early is important.
It’s important to be aware of signs and symptoms. If you haven’t seen your child for a while, you’ll likely notice a physical difference right away. However, often eating disorders or disordered eating may be on the inside more than what you can see on the outside. They may struggle with low self-esteem, shame and emotional pain. They may isolate themselves instead hanging out with friends. There may be mood changes, like depression and anxiety. Your child may make excuses about eating – already ate, not hungry. Even if you fix their favorite dish, they still won’t eat. That’s a definitely red flag.
If there are moments like this, it is a very good time to consider treatment. An eating disorder is a very serious illness and it can take many forms: anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. These are potentially huge problems with devastating consequences for both genders. This is a mental illness – one with the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders.
Even if your child has had treatment, many kids relapse in their first year of college. They’re living away from home. They’re faced with parties and drinking.
What can a parent do?
• Express your concern.
• State what your observations and list the evidence of the problem.
• Be compassionate and listen.
• Understand that eating disorders are often based on feelings, not facts or logic.
• Base your conversation around overall health, not just weight.
• Communicate your conviction that the situation should, at the very least, receive a professional evaluation.
• Offer tangible help — with a referral, information or emotional support.
• Make sure you work with the family, providing education and assistance.
Always remember that eating disorders are real diseases, and extremely dangerous
The holidays are an ideal time for coming together as a family and supporting one another, even if this means treatment. It’s always the right time to take action when it concerns the health and wellness of a child.