Wannarexia Warning Signs

Eating disorders are secretive, so it’s not common for someone to come right out and say that she or he has an eating disorder — or wants to have one. So it’s critical to pay attention to the warning signs.

Brotsky provided this list of wannarexia’s potential red flags:

  • Recent weight loss in a short period of time
  • Total elimination of a food group (or groups)
  • Becoming a vegetarian
  • Complaints of food allergies
  • Constant consumption of appetite suppressants: hard candies, chewing gum, coffee or diet soda
  • Fear or unrealistic beliefs about food
  • Foods may be labeled as “good” or “bad”
  • Preoccupation with the appearance of the body
  • Overly concerned with a particular part of the body
  • Inability to break rigid routines (especially food and exercise patterns)
  • Distorted body image (feeling fat when actually thin)
  • Perfectionism
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty asking for help
  • Anxiety – difficulty dealing with stress
  • Easily frustrated
  • All or nothing” thinking
  • Denial of disorder

What Parents (and Loved Ones) Can Do About Wannarexia

Having a child who’s exhibiting any of these warning signs can be scary. But there are many ways you can help. Here’s how:

  • Be a good role model. The most important thing that parents need to realize is that they’re critical in their children’s lives, Dr. Kreipe said. He cited a recent study that showed that the biggest predictor of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders’ desire to lose weight was their mother wanting to lose weight.
  • Avoid letting appearance and weight determine your value or making personal judgments, like “I’m weak, lazy or bad if I don’t lose weight,” Dr. Kreipe said. Similarly, avoid statements like “I’m weak for eating this dessert” or “I’m so lazy for not exercising.” Kids pick up on this. Also, engage the entire family in living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Listen — a lot. “Listening is twice as important as talking,” said Dr. Kreipe, who recalled a quote from a dad: “G-d gave me two ears and one mouth so I could listen twice as much as I talk.” So listen to your kids when they discuss body image and other concerns.
  • Avoid being overly controlling. Monitoring online activities like a hawk isn’t the solution, even though this might be your first instinct. “There’s a fine line between wanting to protect your child from external influences you might think are bad versus letting your child explore their identity,” Chen said. She believes that the key is to maintain a strong relationship with your kids. Limiting Internet access and being overly controlling tells children that you don’t trust them and “might hinder some of the positive relationship between parent and child,” she said.
  • Educate yourself. Learn more about eating disorders, their health consequences and how you can raise healthy children. Dr. Kreipe recommended reading Dianne Neumark-Sztainer’s book, “I’m, Like, SO Fat!”: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices about Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World, to learn how to “raise kids in a weight-conscious world in a balanced way.”
  • Educate your kids. Most children, teens and young adults don’t realize the devastating and potentially fatal consequences of eating disorders. Brotsky suggested explaining this to your child.
  • See a specialist. Brotsky also suggested that parents have their child see a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders. For more on talking to your child and finding help, check out Psych Central’s interview with eating disorder specialist Sari Shepphird, Ph.D.