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Thin, thinner, thinnest: when eating becomes a problem

As parents you would be right to be alarmed if your daughter or son is conspicuously thin or has been losing weight for some time. A burst of growth is one possible reason but anorexia or another illness could also be behind it. Visit a doctor with your child to rule out a possible physical cause. Should you suspect anorexia, it is important to deal with it comprehensively and seek professional help for you and your child.

Thin, thinner, thinnest: when eating becomes a problem

Typical signs of anorexia

Anorexics are very underweight, however they believe they are fat. Therefore they hardly eat anything, weigh themselves constantly and starve themselves more when their weight has already reached alarming proportions. You can find out whether your child is too thin using our BMI calculator. In addition to eating much less, many anorexics are also compelled to exercise all the time. They devote several hours per day to sport in order to lose more weight.

The following behaviour can be typical:

  • Your child is happy to cook for the whole family yet eats hardly anything themselves, or they pretend to eat by chewing and finally spitting the food out when they think no one is looking.
  • Anorexics eat extremely slowly and sometimes extremely hot or cold food.
  • Those affected by anorexia constantly weigh themselves and tend to be perfectionists and need to be in control.
  • They show a disproportionate amount of responsibility towards their parents and siblings and are extremely achievement-orientated, including in school.
  • Sometimes they are excessively thrifty, neat and live very modestly.
  • Anorexics withdraw emotionally and others find them very aloof.
  • Black and white thinking and depressive thoughts are also typical.
  • Those affected will refuse to admit to having the illness for a long time.

Causes and consequences of anorexia

Thin, thinner, thinnest: when eating becomes a problem

The causes of the illness are very diverse. The family environment may be a cause, for example. The explanatory model for family dynamics is as follows: anorexics often come from close-knit families that strive for harmony and have high expectations of each family member. In this case the illness can be an outlet for friction and conflict. It is typical for anorexics to show extremely adaptive behaviour during childhood. They can only be independent if they are stronger than their hunger and in this way demonstrate power over their own bodies. The psychoanalytical explanatory model starts from the premise that anorexia is a way of suppressing sexual desires and ending a crisis of development during puberty, in order to return to the “ideal” of childhood.

It is important that your child’s illness is discovered early because it can be life-threatening. Brittle bones, weak kidneys and depression are just some of the consequences of anorexia on health. Approximately 15 percent of those suffering from this life-threatening illness die from these consequences.

Thin, thinner, thinnest: when eating becomes a problem

Tips for the parents of anorexics

Let go of the idea that your child only has to put on weight to become healthy again. Low weight is only an external sign of deeper problems. A therapist can determine what the causes of your child’s anorexia are. Also seek help from a helpline.

Confront your child with your knowledge of the illness and motivate them to have therapy. However do not force them. Tell them what you feel and think and speak to them about your fears and worries. Avoid criticism and accusations, however. Most often it makes sense to involve the family in therapy.

Your child is probably very strong-willed, otherwise they could not starve themselves so much. Tell them that they can also make mistakes and that they should treat themselves to something good. Show your child, through examples from your own life, that you are not a perfect person either and need support from others. They will perhaps follow your example then.