Adolescence and the transition to college are the two most common life stages in which eating disorders can develop. For many teens, the pressure of college life, being away from home and managing their well-being can become overwhelming. As kids return home for summer break, parents are encouraged to be mindful of the signs of an eating disorder which might have remained hidden while away at school.
Another good reason to be aware of signs and symptoms of disordered eating during this time is that summer presents another challenge for negative body image to take hold. With temperature increasing and clothing minimizing, there is pressure to drop a few extra winter pounds. If a student has already been restricting their food intake, whether consciously or accidentally, summer can increase the risk of unhealthy behaviors.
Red Flags for ED’s:
1. Noticeable weight loss or weight gain since he or she entered college.
2. Helping with the preparation of meals but not eating them.
3. Excessive exercise, obsession with body image
4. Withdrawal from family and friends and avoidance of gatherings, even if he or she has not seen loved ones for months.
5. Discussing college in a “stressed out” or obviously anxious manner or altogether avoiding conversations about school.
6. Binge eating and frequent bathroom trips.
If you think there might be a distortion in the way your child views their body, trust your instincts and talk openly with them about your concerns. Focus on feelings, and not on the way they look. What’s important here is the way they feel about themselves and their body, focus on weight (even your own!) can send the wrong message.
Summer break can be a good time for students who have even some of the signs of an eating disorder to seek counseling or treatment. Away from the pressures and stress of attendance at school, there is the opportunity to focus on positive body image and overall well-being. The underlying issues causing distorted body image and eating can heal with the support and compassion found at home.