Summer days wane and parents and children line up to buy school supplies. This end of summer may be exciting to some children, who look forward to seeing friends and resuming their academic studies. Others, however, face the start of the school year with more anxiety. This may be especially true for those transitioning to middle school, high school or college.
Life transitions can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, according 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota interviewed to 26 women and one man ages 17 to 64 receiving outpatient treatment for eating disorders. They suffered from eating disorders for an average of 20 years.
“The aim of our study was to find out if there was any link between transitional events in family life and the onset of eating disorders” says lead author Dr Jerica M Berge, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University. “Eating disorders are an important public health issue and knowing what causes them can help us to develop more effective treatment and support.”
The researchers found adapting to a new school environment to be one of the transitional life events that preceded eating disorders in this group.
There are a number of reasons that such transitions can lead to disordered eating. These include the need for increased independence, which can be frightening, losses or changes in friendship groups, and differing peer and academic expectations. Eating disorders may be a way to gain a sense of control or to numb feelings of sadness, fear or anxiety. Adolescents and young adults may also think that losing weight will ensure increased popularity among their peers.
A strong theme that emerged in the study was that these life changes were as much triggered by changed circumstances as by a lack of support in the midst of change. “We hope that our findings will be of interest to parents as well as health professionals as they underline the need for greater awareness and support at times of change and stress,” Dr Berge says.
Dr. Berge’s comments underscore the need for parents and treating professionals to be alert to increased risk and to provide support. Monitoring responses that indicate stress or anxiety and problem-solving where needed is a good start. It is also important to be aware warning signs of eating disorders, and seek help if they occur. These include:
· Frequently weighing oneself (more than 1/week)
· Mood changes based on the scale
· Strict ideas of “good” and “bad” foods
· Avoidance of socializing if it involves food
· Guilt after overeating
· Skipping meals or purging as a way to diet
· Abusing diet pills or laxatives
· Preoccupation with food and calories
Should parents notice these signs it is helpful to seek the support of a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders.