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Women: Are your children OBSESSED by their weight? ANOREXIA IS A FRIGHTENING AND LIFE-THREATENING CONDITION. HERE'S HOW TO SPOT IF YOUR TEENAGER COULD BE A SUFFERER AND HOW TO HELP THEM...

Byline: BY KIA HANSEN

KEEPING an eye on our weight at various times of life is quite normal, healthy even. But what if your teenage daughter is counting every calorie?

Dr Michael Strober, author of Just A Little Too Thin, says: "If it's an attempt to shave off a few pounds of puppy fat to get into a pair of drainpipe jeans, it's probably OK.

"But for other girls, a diet will be the first step towards a medical condition so serious that it kills more people than any other psychiatric disease - anorexia."

The facts

ANOREXIA Nervosa usually starts in young people aged between 15-25, although it can happen much earlier - a recent case saw a girl of just four suffering from the condition. It's most common among girls, although boys do get it, too.

It makes sufferers obsessive about losing weight and controlling their food, even when they are seriously underweight.

It's not known exactly what causes it, but genetic links, media pressure to look slim and emotional problems are all thought to contribute. It can also be a coping mechanism for girls having to deal with growing up and puberty.

By starving themselves, many girls feel they are exerting control over their lives and are somehow "better" because they are thinner.

There are even websites that encourage girls to become anorexic as a lifestyle choice.

Cause for concern

ANOREXIA'S effects on health are many and serious, including kidney damage, hair loss, infertility, brittle bones and heart failure.

Indeed, many sufferers die because of the health implications or suicide.

Steve Bloomfield from the Eating Disorders Association says: "Eating disorders must be taken seriously.

"Many people, especially those suffering, don't understand that they can result in serious health disorders."

For a parent, the thought that your child may be anorexic can be terrifying and it can be difficult to know what to do, especially as you may not entirely understand why they refuse to eat.

"It can be very difficult for parents to understand that an eating disorder is about emotional and psychological distress, not about food," says Steve.

"Encouraging some-one to eat will not help.

"Young people with an eating disorder can become very angry and emotional, but it's important to remember that it's the illness that is causing this, it's not part of their personality. Love from family is crucial for recovery."

But however much love and support you give your child, they need professional help to recover so don't be ashamed to seek it.

"If you're worried about a daughter or son, it's important to seek treatment quickly - there's evidence that the sooner you do, the more likely they are to recover," says Steve.

How to spot it

Intense fear of gaining weight and obsessive interest in what others are eating.

Distorted perception of their body shape or weight.

Denial of the existence of a problem.

Changes in personality and mood swings.

Rigid or obsessive behaviour attached to eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces.

Mood swings.

Restlessness and hyperactivity.

Wearing big baggy clothes.

How you can help

Learn as much as you can about the condition - read leaflets and books and leave them lying around.

Offer to talk to your child - when they're ready - and say that you are worried about them.

Don't pass your body worries on to your kids - if you're constantly dieting and complaining about being fat, you're not setting a good example.

Boost your kids' self-esteem and explain that body size isn't what you value them for - praise their thoughtfulness, loyalty, sense of humour and trustworthiness.

Give your kids as much control as possible - let them choose their own hobbies and listen to their opinions about family events, such as holidays, so they feel their views are important.

Don't celebrate skinny celebrities - talk about people who are attractive but not too slim.

Don't try to force them to eat.

Encourage them to seek professional help - the earlier you get treatment the better the success rate. Speak to your GP or ask the Eating Disorders Association (information below) for advice about treatment centres.

Get good eating habits

INSTILL a healthy attitude to food in your kids from a young age.

Eat meals together regularly as a family.

Focus on healthy foods and explain how they improve your health - make a connection between food and how you feel, not how you look.

Don't force kids to eat foods they don't like.

Make food fun and enjoyable - cook with your kids.

For more information

Eating Disorders Association helpline 01603 621414 (Monday-Friday 9am-6.30pm) or visit www.edauk.com

www.mentalhealth.org.uk

www.rcpsych.ac.uk

NHS Direct 0845 4647 or visit www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

Breaking Free From Anorexia Nervosa: A Survival Guide For Families, Friends And Sufferers by Janet Treasure, pounds 11.95 or pounds 9.56 from www.amazon.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 9, 2006
Words:810
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