Eating disorders are the third most chronic condition among adolescent females, said Natasha Files.
Files is a social worker and counsellor based out of Three Stories Clinic in Vancouver.
“And eating disorders are the most lethal of psychological conditions,” she added.
Files was recently in Williams Lake leading workshops with local physicians, counsellors and caregivers and gave a public presentation.
There is a continuum of eating, she explained.
At one end is the balanced eater who is relaxed, loves food, attaches no shame, eats when hungry and stops when full.
In the middle is the person who overeats or fasts when they are under stress and their emotions get involved. At the end of the spectrum is the person who suffers from anorexia, bulimia, and binging.
“If children and teenagers have no outlet for emotional pain over a period of time, eating disorders are more likely to develop,” Files said. “Often if children tell us they are hurting, if we don’t know what to say, we step back because often we weren’t taught how to respond to emotions.”
When emotions are avoided there is a risk of developing unhealthy relationships, mental health and health issues.
Eating disorders, like substance abuse, become a means of attempting to manage emotional pain, she added.
“Emotions will be feared and the fear becomes overwhelming.”
To tackle emotions she suggested talking with children about feelings and listening to them when they share their pain, even when it’s difficult.
Parents and caregivers need to teach them how to navigate through painful situations.
“Not only will you help to prevent mental health issues, but physical health issues as well.”
There are steps to the process of helping deal with emotions, she explained. First is to attend to emotion, name it, and most importantly validate it. Then meet emotions with the associated need. That’s where we can sooth, protect, reassure, assert and help set limits.
Dieting can lead to eating disorders, she warned.
A study of Ontario youth showed that 23 per cent of boys and 30 per cent of girls are dieting to lose weight, despite being at a healthy weight.
“Chronic dieting can lead to weight gain and we’re finding that dieting peers are heavier than non-dieting.”
It doesn’t mean some people don’t need to watch what they eat, but diets should be under the supervision of a physician or a dietician, she added.
Diets that come from professionals are very different than the diets teenagers and kids are adopting.
Instead of focusing on good and bad foods, Files suggested defining them as sometimes foods and everyday foods.
“Examine your own attitude and beliefs about body image, weight and shape because our kids watch us closely,” she said.