How to Talk with Kids about Eating Disorders

Collage piece, circa 1998

Inside and outside of school, there are many pressures on children and teenagers to look or act a certain way. It’s hard to be aware of, and control, what they are exposed to – whether on social media or in their friend groups- but here’s a question & answer guide to facilitate conversations with your child.

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  1. Why is it important to talk to your child about eating disorders?

It is important to talk with your child about eating disorders as a precautionary measure. It will help them build awareness of their own eating habits and to notice if it starts to swing into disordered eating. They may be able to help identify peers or friends who may also need help.

  1. Should you have these conversations only if you’re concerned or just in general? Why or Why not?

There are two sides to this. By starting a conversation and saying that sometimes people starve themselves, over-exercise, or purge in order to look a certain way, a child may pick up on that as a valid way to change the way they look. Conversely, the conversation, including the detriments of eating disorders (e.g. on dental, bone, reproductive, or psychological health – even the risk of death) may help them stay on a healthier path with their eating.

  1. Some parents may be concerned that talking about eating disorders will put the idea in their head or make a situation worse? Is that a legitimate concern?

[See above]. For some children, it can plant a seed in their minds to try unhealthy eating behaviors in order to lose weight. A child, depending on age and disposition, may also rebel against the parents by doing the opposite of what they suggest and become entrenched, or further entrenched, in disordered eating. It would be very appropriate, and perhaps necessary, to bring in a more neutral third party, perhaps a therapist or registered dietitian, to educate the child about disordered eating and its effects.

  1. Should parents talk about how to approach eating from a healthy place or give any advice?

It’s always best for parents to model healthy eating. I’ve heard too many stories from my clients about how their disordered eating started because their mom was on a diet and always talked about how “fat” she was or how dad would eat “whatever he wanted” and then run it off. Children model after and emulate their parents, for better or worse. Talking about eating from a healthy, positive place can definitely help. If the child is open to advice, you can offer it, but I would suggest letting them ask questions to get engaged in the conversation, versus delivering a lecture.

  1. What should parents know about talking about eating disorders?

Just like other topics – including sex education, personal finance, healthy relationships – it’s likely to be an ever-evolving conversation, not a one-and-done deal. Making the child feel safe, by being approachable and providing support, is probably the most important factor in getting them to trust you and participate in these important conversations. Pull in an expert for questions you don’t know the answers to or for a more neutral, objective advisor to counsel your child on their feelings, the way they eat, and more.

  1. How do they start a conversation in an age appropriate way?

Most parents are aware of their child’s maturity level and understanding of various topics. Meet them where they are. Just as you wouldn’t give a five year old child a blow-by-blow account of what happens during a birth, explaining the tax benefits of a Roth IRA, or explaining narcissitic or borderline personalities when talking about building friendships in kindergarten, you’d want to match their level of understanding by simplifying the conversation and making it appropriate to what they need to know at this stage of their development.

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Review: Floating at True REST

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Ah yes, a perfect flashback to Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and the lyrics work perfectly with our topic: floatation tanks!

Given our hectic lives where ‘being busy’ is a twisted badge of honor, the idea of a sensory deprivation state or REST (Restricted Environment Stimulus Therapy) has appealed for quite a long time. We’ve seen egg-shaped chairs and chambers but NOW….Columbus has a most perfect option; so we recently went to check it out.

For first-time floaters, you’ll need to get there half an hour early to have some tea and watch a video with a bit of the history of floating, benefits, and how to have a good float. The room is already set up for relaxing with some comfy chairs and Himalayan salt lamps. Towards the end of the video, it turns into a relaxation screen with colorful prisms and tranquil music.

From there you’ll be assigned a room with a floatation pod, shower, and all sorts of accoutrements, including ear plugs. All you need to do is shampoo and wash your body, wait for the signal, climb in and pull the pod lid down to start your float.

If you have a bit of an issue with claustrophobia, rest assured that you can lift the lid at anytime. As you get into your float (aptly named- with all the salt in there you can’t sink!), you may experience a wee bit of what meditators often call the ‘monkey mind’. “Did I lock my car? How annoying it was standing in line at the grocery today! What will we eat for dinner?” But after awhile, you body -being so still – allows your brain to get the message that we are RESTING now. You may even start falling asleep!

Before you know it – soft music will be piped into your pod to remind you that your float is almost over. It’s time to stretch yourself out, shower (careful – you don’t want salt on your clothes) and adjust to the ‘real world’ in the soft, peaceful oxygen bar area. The attendants are extremely dedicated to good customer service and you’ll likely have multiple people offering to grab you another cup of tea or infused water. If it suits you, they also have coloring books and journal in the relaxation space. Just make sure you’ve given yourself time to adjust from the Theta brain wave state before getting into your car and the phone starts pinging again.

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The owner, Patrick Gerke, was assisting other floaters with their oxygen bar selections. It was the perfect time to inquire about the history of True REST. He shared that he had been in the Marines and found it hard to turn off his highly-alert nervous system upon returning home. He found himself constantly watching other people’s hands, paying attention to their purses/bags, and the doctors he went to offered pharmaceuticals. He didn’t want to flirt with possibility of addiction to these drugs and his friend in the Navy SEALS suggested floating. Shortly thereafter, Patrick went to nearest flotation tank experience available – in Chicago – back in 2013 and as he told us”found his calling.” From there he and his wife set up the Powell location and recently expanded to Easton.

The benefits of floating are said to extend beyond relaxation and stress reduction to pain relief as well as enhanced sleep and cognition.

True REST is so confident you will enjoy the experience that if you are not 100% satisfied with your first visit, you won’t pay. We seriously doubt that ever happens, especially when you feel like a refreshed version of your ideal self. So there’s nothing to lose!

In fact, a single float is normally $79 but let them know Adrienne Raimo from One Bite Wellness sent you and get your first float for $49 (instead of $59).

Bonus: your experience may be even better when you do yoga or get a massage (both on the same shopping strip!) before your float.

They say you can never step into the same river twice; we add: you will can never step out of the floatation pod in same state you entered :).

Let’s all float on alright.