by Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C.

Sometimes parents are afraid that educational materials about eating disorders will stimulate an eating disorder in their teenager or give a teenager with an eating disorder encouragement to try new and different methods of acting out the disorder. Sometimes loving parents are afraid to know about eating disorders themselves. They may think that if they ignore the subject it will keep the disorder out of their lives.

While providing information is powerful, information about eating disorders will not cause an eating disorder to develop in a person. By the same token, people of any age suffering from an eating disorder will not be cured by information. They need treatment.

Eating Disorder educational programs can alert parents and children to the nature of eating disorders, the risks involved in acting out an eating disorder, how to recognize when they or someone they know needs help, and most importantly, how to get help.

Often early stages of an eating disorder go unrecognized by everyone, including the person with the disorder. Everyone eats. And there are many ways of eating and not eating that are socially sanctioned for particular occasions. For example, it's socially acceptable to eat junk food, even large quantities of it, at parties or at the movies. It's also socially acceptable to diet and try fad diets that might include fasting. It has become acceptable to acknowledge 'comfort foods' as means of coping with stress or disappointment such as chocolate or ice cream.

It would be very difficult to distinguish a newly forming bulimic from a non bulimic person when both are devouring lots of sweets and treats at a pajama party. It would be difficult to distinguish a newly forming anorexic teen-ager from her teenage friends when they are all experimenting with exotic diets and judging every aspect of their body as too fat. And the anorexic/bulimic who is first experimenting with vomiting, rather than being worried or frightened, is usually quite happy at discovering a 'trick' to help her avoid the consequences of any food she eats.

Parents may be reassured to know that eating disorder education might bump into the consciousness of young people at an early stage of an eating disorder. Through education a young girl might recognize herself as being on her way to having a serious disorder. If she knows the symptoms, knows there is supportive and caring help available and she knows how to ask for that support and help she has an opportunity to get some early healing. She has a chance of redirecting herself before the disorder advances to relationship destroying and life destroying levels.

Eating disorder education can help parents become less fearful and more understanding if their child does have an eating disorder. Parents can be empowered to lovingly and more confidently support the healing efforts required for their child to recover. With education and family support, the child may be more willing and capable of doing the necessary healing work.

Early education presented clearly and sensitively with regard to the developmental stage of the audience may provide a powerful way of waylaying an eating disorder, encouraging family cooperation and helping a child grow up healthy and free.

For Educational Resources Contact:

Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, Inc. (EDAP).
603 Stewart Street, Suite 803
Seattle, WA 9101
(206) 382-3587

AED Academy of Eating Disorders
6728 Old McLean Village Drive
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 556-9222


Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.

Contact Information:
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax

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