Helping My Daughter With Eating And Body Image

Over a million Australians are currently living with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice or a cry for attention. Eating disorders can be hard to detect because they cannot be identified by someone’s size or shape (that is, the person is not always slim.

Warning signs that your daughter may be experiencing an eating disorder include:

  • Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
  • Loss or disturbance of menstruation
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well
  • Lethargy and low energy
  • Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather
  • Dieting behaviour (e.g., fasting, counting calories/kilojoules, avoiding food groups such as fats and carbohydrates)
  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g., disappearance and/or hoarding of food)
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
  • Vomiting or using laxatives, enemas, appetite suppressants or diuretics
  • Changes in clothing style (e.g., wearing baggy clothes)
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising (e.g., exercising in bad weather, continuing to exercise when sick or injured, and experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)
  • Changes in food preferences (e.g., claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden preoccupation with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g., eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time every day)
  • Extreme sensitivity to comments about body shape, weight, eating and exercise habits
  • Secretive behaviour around food (e.g., saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms) (as per The Butterfly Foundation, click here for more information).

If you are concerned, you should gently raise it with your daughter in an open and non-judgemental way. Focus your concern on her health, not on how she looks, and use “I” statements, rather than “you” statements (e.g., “I am worried that you don’t seem to have much energy lately.”). More tips on speaking with your child about your concerns are available here

You can also call the Butterfly Foundation Support Line on 1800 33 4673 if you’re worried and don’t know what to do. 

Support

Eating disorders can be very serious. We recommend review by a GP and requesting a referral to a psychologist for intervention. 

The Butterfly Foundation is an Australian non-profit organisation that provides a lot of amazing resources specifically around eating disorders. You can, for example, sign up for their free family program here. This program helps encourage healthy relationships with food and eating, and helps you talk to your teen about body image and social media.

The Butterfly Foundation has a list of psychologists who specialise in eating disorders available here

The Foundation also provides online support groups for (a) those living with eating disorders, and (b) their families. 

Parenting Tips

Children and teens are very sensitive to messages about body image and appearance from their parents. You can help by:

  • Avoiding commenting on your daughter’s shape or size or that she doesn’t look good in particular clothes etc. 
  • Modelling a healthy body image, e.g., not making negative comments when you look at yourself in the mirror. 
  • Avoiding talking about diets. (click here for more). 
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