By Meryle H. Gellman Ph.D., Psy.D. (Thu March 08, 2012)
The Brentwood Patch published this article about the work of Dr. Gellman on helping parents identify unhealthy behaviors that may make your child vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. By Victoria Talbot.
Children are manifesting eating disorders at a younger age, with some as young as nine years old, and one Brentwood resident wants to help. For most families, an eating disorder is a gradual shift in behavior. It is often a gray area of distinction between the time of onset and a full-blown disorder that may include compulsive overeating, bulimia, anorexia and many combinations in between. The reality is alarming. Said Gellman. In treatment, one area Gellman is focusing on is helping parents to understand what they are communicating to their children. Children, she says, are often affected by their parent& behavior around body image. For example, if a mother compulsively works out twice a day and becomes anxious over food groups in her own diet that she perceives as fattening or harmful, she can be unwittingly transmitting an unhealthy message to her daughter or son about the importance of achieving an idealized body image.
That, says Gellman, and the prevailing media images, make confusing messages for youngsters when they are most vulnerable, especially at the onset of puberty. The media portrays celebrity offspring as fashion mavens at a young age. Suri Cruise, daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, has her own fashion blog;at 5 years old, Gellman pointed out. Consequently, children are already absorbing messages about body images and comparing themselves with these young icons. In the drive to achieve, to get into to good schools and to be successful, kids run from dance lessons and gym classes to tutoring and social engagements instead of sitting down to a family dinner. Kids and parents eat on the run, without the emotional engagement of a meal together that is so necessary and vital to their well being, said Gellman. “Parents,” she says, “need to reflect more.” Gellman is trying to help parents to be more mindful of these messages. Some of the factors that contribute to EDs and body image disorders include, “genetic predisposition, vulnerable personality, dieting, family lifestyle, pre-puberty hormonal activity, major life changes, social pressure and excessive competition,” said Gellman The anorexic child appears to be the perfect child, auto-regulating his or her own life at a very young age. They seem to need very little parenting. But that perfect child is also the perfect candidate for anorexia. Dieting is a huge red flag that can signal the beginning of a very slippery slope.