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Parents: Important Advice About Your College Student and Eating Disorders
College students have tremendous pressures on them these days. As parents and grandparents we read, hear and worry a lot about binge drinking and drug use on college campuses. There are quieter but equally destructive – in fact, even deadly – ways college students are harming their health as well: eating disorders. In Parents: 10 Winter Break Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Your College Students, I shared expert advice on what parents should look out for while your college students are home for the holidays. Experts stressed that parents and other family members should be "vigilant," especially with college freshmen. Here, I'd like to share more expert advice on what to do and say if you suspect a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder — especially a college student coming home for visits. Maybe they are starving themselves with anorexia or bingeing and purging with bulimia. Or both. Whatever disordered relationship they may have with food, it means they are in crisis, in pain, and need your intervention. Elizabeth Easton, PsyD, is the clinical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center. She offers some "dos and don'ts" for parents or other family members who become concerned about a loved one's eating habits. As Dr. Easton explains, there are two possible scenarios as your loved one returns home from college for a visit and you suspect an eating disorder: Weight Loss and Depression: "Your loved one has lost a significant amount of weight, become very isolative or socially withdrawn and appears more pre-occupied with weight and/or food." Obsession with Exercise: "Additionally, there's a significant change in his or her exercise drive and/or compensatory behaviors (vomiting after eating, abuse of diet pills or laxatives, etc…). These behaviors often mean the person is more entrenched in the eating disorder and is relying on eating disorders behaviors to cope with stress, depression and anxiety." Eating Little, and in Ritualized Ways: Maybe he or she is eating a small amount but is cutting it into tiny pieces, eating in some private pattern.