When Tanya* hit 10, her mum Seema* noticed a distinct drop in her appetite. "She had just moved to a fancy Delhi school from the homely one when we lived in Manali. I noticed she'd eat a few grapes for dinner, and always claimed to be full. First, I thought she was losing baby-fat, which she needed to, but got really worried when it seemed more unhealthy than healthy."
It would break any parent's heart to see that their child does not relish food like other kids. While that may just be fussy eating, you may be staring at signs of an eating disorder-even with kids as young as seven and eight!
Does your child have an intense fear of gaining weight, sneaks in snacks at night and constantly denies being hungry? Is this more extreme now than her/his historic fussy eating? Watch out, it may be Anorexia Nervosa.
But why? S/he isn't even fat!
Often, self-image is unrelated to a child's actual weight. And weight, in turn, has little to do with anorexia! Most doctors believe it has more to do with what a child feels emotionally, socially and mentally. If a child feels helpless or not in control of a situation he/she wants to change, not eating might simply be his/her way of trying to control at least something.
How do I help?
Seema took the mum-knows-best approach-with a little tough love and a you're-not-getting-up-from-the-table-until-you've-finished-your-food rule, Tanya eventually relented and started eating well and healthy again. But what else can you do?
Start enjoying YOUR food
In the battle with the bulge, almost all of us have adopted drastic measures at some point-starving before a party, drastic diets, overzealous workouts, etc. If we treat food like our enemy, the attitude is bound to take root in our children. So first, YOU start enjoying your food. If we have a healthy relationship with food and fitness, our children will too. Talk about the importance of nourishment and growth. And explain the drawbacks of not eating. Make it a conversation, not a class. And practice what you preach!
Be more forgiving
We all know better than to criticise a child's appearance. But are we equally careful about criticising the people around us? When kids hear us criticising people for the way they look or their size, it defines their parameters of beauty. So we need to be more accepting in our definition of what's beautiful and be more vocal about our disapproval of what popular media calls 'slim' and 'appealing'.
Join in the fun
How many times have you ditched your salad after looking at your partner dig into a plate of creamy pasta? By the same logic, what child can resist a burger while watching his mother relish it? Take your child and his/her friends out for a meal. When a potentially anorexic child sees everyone eating-even junk food-without guilt, it'll make eating more acceptable in his own head.
Seek professional help
If children continue to be unhappy about their body and reject food despite relentless efforts, it might be time to consult a doctor. Timely medical help can curb the problem before it can cause any lasting damage.
It's hard to understand why a happy healthy child one day turns into an obsessive weight watcher the next. Don't blame yourself, it's not your fault. The good news is, with proper care and intervention, anorexic kids all over the world are able to leave the condition behind and live a happy, healthy life.
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