What to do if your child
has an eating disorder?

There is a line in Netflix’s controversial new series Insatiable which ought to raise alarm bells for any parent with school-age children. It is: “skinny is magic”.

In case you have not heard of the US series, it is about a young teenager girl, Patty, who is bullied at school – her nickname is Fatty Patty.

In the series’ first episode, Patty is punched in the face resulting in her broken jaw being wired for three months; she is put on a liquid diet.

Patty then transforms from a bullied overweight teen to a “hot” slim one.

Themes of body image, fat-shaming, bullying and a troubled relationship with food run through the series, which has been both praised and slammed by viewers and critics.

One critic described it as “an insufferable hot mess”, while the series’ creator, Lauren Gussis, says what is portrayed in the program “is the reality of what still happens” [to young teens who are bullied because of their weight].

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are common in Australia with about one million people diagnosed each year.

As a concerned parent, what can you do if your teen has an eating disorder? Consider these actions:

  • Monitor the changes in your teen’s behaviour such as whether he or she talks more about body image, is fixated on exercise, suddenly decides to only eat certain food groups, seems preoccupied with weight and avoids social outings with friends or family
  • Talk to your child in a non-judgemental way about their relationship with food and encourage them to share their feelings with you regularly
  • Think about possible causes for their eating disorder such as whether your teen has experienced events such as bullying, a family death or divorce, concerns about their sexuality, or they demonstrate a lack of self-confidence
  • Try to better understand what is going on in your teenager’s mind
  • Explore your child’s social media platforms, peer groups, role models and other popular culture influences
  • Talk to your child about who they look up to? Are they, for example, following popular social media “influencers” such as UK fitness model Krissy Cela (who shares what her troubled teenage years were like), Instagram stars Georgie Stevenson and Steph Claire Smith who are great role models who regularly discuss their health and fitness “journey” and their now balanced diets.
  • Try to develop better problem solving skills and reach out to trusted friends and family for help

Seek professional guidance with our Western Sydney Family Referral Service. The FRS assists vulnerable families, young people and children to cope in difficult times and can support families by finding the right service for them. For more information follow this link

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