Getting Help For Your Child's Eating Disorder

Signs your child's thoughts about eating are severely disordered plus types of treatment for eating disorders.

(ARA) - At a time when childhood obesity is a major topic everywhere you look, we must be sure not to overlook another problem that child-care specialists are concerned about. Today parents need to be concerned with both ends of the spectrum regarding weight, health and body image.

"Not only are our kids increasingly too fat, they are also too thin or trying hard to be," says Carolyn Costin M.A., M.Ed., director of The Eating Disorder Center of California and the Monte Nido Treatment Center. She finds herself working with younger and younger people these days; kids who have problems with hating their bodies and either not eating enough or resorting to tactics such as vomiting to get rid of unwanted calories for fear of getting fat.

She says kids as young as six complain about stomachs that stick out or brag excitedly about having the chicken pox because it means going to bed without dinner which means less calories. Kids see their moms dieting and they want to diet too, even if they don't need to.

Recovered from anorexia nervosa herself, Costin has been helping others in both outpatient and residential settings recover from these disorders for almost 30 years. In her book, "Your Dieting Daughter," written to help anyone raising a child today in this "Thin is In" world, she tries to help people understand the mind set of those with eating disorders. Her own patients helped her develop a list of ten common thought patterns those suffering from eating disorders commonly have. She calls this list "The Thin Commandments" and tells parents they can use this as a checklist to help determine if their daughter (or even son) has a problem.

The Thin Commandments

1. If you aren't thin you aren't attractive.
2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.
3. You buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself. Do anything to make yourself look thinner.
4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.
5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing yourself afterward.
6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.
7. What the scale says is the most important thing.
8. Losing weight is good. Gaining weight is bad.
9. You can never be too thin.
10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.

"If these commandments are a way of life for a child or anyone, this is evidence of a serious problem and a potentially life-threatening illness," says Costin. "One of the things that is so difficult to understand is the dedication to thinness beyond reason. I know how hard it is to comprehend how someone could relentlessly pursue something that is killing her and ruining her family."

Eating disorder recovery is a long-term process. Treatment, including therapy, nutritional counseling and medical monitoring, is extremely expensive with therapy generally extending for well over five years. Research shows that it can take up to six or more years for full recovery to take place. Families have sold their homes to pay for treatment.

Depending on the severity of the illness, treatment for these eating disorders can be handled in various ways:

  • Outpatient: Individual, family or group therapy sessions take place in a therapist's or other professional's office - usually conducted one to three times a week.

  • Inpatient: 24-hour care in a hospital setting which can be a medical or psychiatric facility or both. Usually, this is short-term for stabilization purposes.

  • Partial Hospitalization or Day Treatment: Some programs offer treatment three to six days a week, with varying hours and services.

  • Residential: Residential programs which are highly structured can substitute for the more sterile hospital setting when 24-hour care is necessary or useful in interrupting the eating disorder symptoms. Many of these programs, like Monte Nido and its sister facility Rain Rock in Eugene Oregon, offer treatment very similar to a hospital inpatient program but in a more relaxed environment and natural serene setting.

Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness. In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that after puberty, anywhere from 5 to 10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders. This illness is real.

Costin often laments that young girls today are lacking in any training or ability to place a value on the more soulful aspects of life. She spends time with her patients helping reconnect them to what is sacred and to something bigger than themselves. Girls increasingly spend time on self-absorption and criticism, and find themselves with only one acceptable and easy to focus on goal..."I am a success if I am thin."

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 8). Getting Help For Your Child's Eating Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: August 19, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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