Signs of an eating disorder can be relatively obvious. Your daughter starts referring to herself and her friends by nicknames like Mia (for bulima) or Ana (for anorexia), or she wears a bracelet sold by a growing number of Web sites supporting that “lifestyle.” But if your fears that she’s flirting with disaster rest on more subtle behaviors, knowing when to act can be difficult. Fortunately, a new book arriving in bookstores this month may help; it’s Just a Little Too Thin: How to Pull Your Child Back From the Brink of an Eating Disorder (De Capo Press), from psychologist Michael Strober, PhD, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of California Los Angeles’ Neuropsychiatric Institute, and therapist Meg Schneider, MA, CSW.
In the crowded field of books on eating disorders, the book distinguishes itself by focusing on what the authors call slippery-slope behaviors that if left to escalate often lead to full-blown eating disorders. Is your child an “innocent (but rigid) dieter” who’s stuck to a plan and reached her goal? Or is she an “exhilarated dieter” who feels powerful after some success and now spends a good deal of time deciding what to eat or how much to exercise? Is she an “obsessed and preoccupied dieter,” whose every thought involves planning what, how much, and when to eat and exercise? Does your family avoid conflict or stress high achievement, or is it in perpetual chaos? Whatever your answers, the authors suggest approaches and discussion points designed to get through to your child. Example: Never tell an innocent dieter she doesn’t need to lose weight; she’ll think you’re clueless about how she feels. Offer instead to help her read food labels or discuss her idea of a normal body weight.
Of course, “some diets are just that—brief episodes of calorie-, fat-, or carb-counting,” Strober says. But even innocent regimens can quickly, and quietly, become something more dangerous.