Editor’s Note: Oona Hanson He is a parent coach in private practice and a family mentor for Equip, an eating disorder treatment program. She specializes in helping parents develop healthy relationships with food and their bodies.
When sending a child to college, it is natural to experience mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety, such as leaving home, getting enough sleep, making friends, as well as the mental health crisis on many college campuses. is.
But most parents and caregivers seem unaware that eating disorders are included in this crisis. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening mental illnesses characterized by a disturbed relationship between food, exercise, and body size.
The transition to college is a time when students are particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders. Students are at greater risk than everaccording to a November 2022 study.
Dr. Leslie Gee, a primary care physician at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “Eating disorders are common and can have a significant impact on a student’s physical and mental health, social participation, and academic performance. there is,” he said in an email.
Many parents and caregivers I meet believe that their child cannot have an eating disorder. “No young person is immune. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders and ethnicities,” he said. Lauren Muhlheimis a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and director of Eating Disorder Therapy LA.
Learning about and openly discussing these illnesses with families in preparation for moving day can help protect fledged children. Here’s what you should know:
During the first year of college, there is always mention of the so-called freshman 15, who assumes that the student will gain 15 pounds while away from school.
Whether your child is afraid of gaining weight, or is making a crude joke about freshman 15, it’s an opportunity to listen and connect.
It is never a good idea to encourage diet, a major risk factor for eating disorders. Instead, “Acknowledge your pain and try to open the door to deeper conversations about unrealistic body ideals and food culture,” says Toby Morris, chief clinical dietitian for students at the University of California, Berkeley. says.
The key is to involve your child non-judgmentally so that he feels comfortable sharing his concerns with you.
“The most important thing is to have an open and honest discussion about how you feel about your body, the dangers of intentional restriction, and why your body is unique,” an eating disorder expert advises. whitney trotter, registered nurse and nutritionist in Memphis, Tennessee. Trotter also encourages families of color to talk about “the costs of assimilation and how BIPOC bodies experience the world differently.” recommended.
If you’re wondering how to respond to your child’s weight concerns, Morris suggested a conversation starter: Regardless of your size, we want you to experience everything the university has to offer. Why do you think our culture is so obsessed with thinness?”
In contrast to what our culture encourages, college students are supposed to gain weight because they are “in an important and continuous stage of growth and development.” This includes gaining bone density, brain growth and physical development,” Gee said in an email.
Parents and guardians can work together to combat body-shaming messages. Mulheim added that it supports children by normalizing “the need to gain weight, rather than reinforcing the fear of gaining weight as the body matures.”
One of the most powerful things parents and caregivers can do is to model body neutrality and embrace body diversity. This is also the hardest.
Body image concerns and diets aren’t the only things that can disrupt a college student’s eating habits. Many students do not have access to the all-you-can-eat three meals a day cafeteria.
“Food insecurity is a major problem for many college students and is associated with the risk of eating disorders,” said Sarah Minkow, registered dietitian at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Canteen meal plans may provide only two meals a day and no meals on weekends. There is a possibility.”
Families can encourage young adults to understand meal plans and dining room hours, and to estimate a budget for additional food needs.
Trotter advised that planning for healthy snacks and other familiar foods in your dorm room can be an important safeguard.
Once class begins, parents can keep in regular contact with their child via text or video chat. Ms. Trotter suggested “approaching with empathy and curiosity” as she asked about their social lives and dining experience at the cafeteria.
Eating disorder warning signs include weight loss, mood changes, social isolation, or an obsession with food, weight, or exercise. Parents and guardians should listen to their instincts when something doesn’t feel right.
“Universities usually tell parents not to fly helicopters,” Mühlheim said, but in this case he disagreed. “I do not encourage parents to abandon their role entirely. Schools do not get involved until the problem is clear and serious. Parents should trust their instincts if they feel they are struggling with a problem.”
If your child is going to college and has been previously diagnosed with an eating disorder, he or she will need extra support during this transition. The first step is for families to be honest about whether young people are really ready to live away from home.
“This is a difficult decision to make, but I would encourage families to refrain from sending their children to college until they are fully recovered,” Morris said. Before starting college or returning to college, it is important to work with your treatment team to develop a solid relapse prevention plan. Morris said it often makes sense for students to sign a Freedom of Information form so that parents and guardians can communicate directly with health care providers.
There is no way to prevent all eating disorders, but awareness of risk factors and open communication can make a difference. If your college student is struggling with an eating disorder or other mental health issue, let them know that if they fall, you will be there to catch them and help them get the support they need is important.
If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, it is important to get tested and treated as soon as possible. Families can find resources and referrals at: National Eating Disorders Alliance.