The population should take a broader view to understand the role of eating disorders (TCA), being able to ensure that people who suffer from them can manage their emotional and psychological needs. These words are from Buenaventura del Charco Olea, psychologist and author of Up the balls of positive thinking (Martínez Roca Editions, 2023). “EDs are usually associated with body image, wanting to look thinner. And we must know that mental health problems do not appear due to an external event, but are the consequence of external and internal factors of the individual himself or his experience, so we would have to focus on what makes it impossible to stop resorting to the problem to try to handle it”, explains Del Charco.
The professional stresses that eating disorders are, above all, a problem of the need for control and self-demand, even bordering on perfection: “Normally, in the lives of those who suffer from them and who suffer from them, very unpleasant and painful experiences appear in which the traits Characteristic are not having power or dealing with situations of extreme weakness or vulnerability that imply a deep fear of those sensations”. For Del Charco, these experiences are feeling rejection, abandonment or harassment in the school environment or at home, with very demanding parents or in situations in which they cannot do anything (illness, unemployment, depression or death in close relatives), abuse or abuse, among others. The psychologist points to a family structure that is frequently found in his office: “A father who is quite absent and a mother who is not very assertive who turns to her daughter to cover her emptiness, becoming very invasive and with, in general, limits that are not clear and little emotionality and validation of children and adolescents on a personal level”.
The brain associates not having control or fragility with suffering, continues the expert, so that, in a compensatory and defensive way, young people always try to feel that they are in control, feel strong or in their best version because that calms that Fear: “It creates a security effect, making them very dependent, almost addicted to everything that causes them that feeling, including an eating disorder.”
Del Charco recommends that fathers and mothers focus more on the child as a person, support him and accompany him in his feeling of discomfort, taking an interest in how he feels about what is happening to him and not trying to go so fast towards the search for a solution: “To It is difficult for the patient to internalize how harmful it is to be obsessed with his body when the people in charge of helping him (families, doctors and psychologists) focus treatment and recovery precisely on what he eats or not, and can turn him into a mere diagnosis of feeding”.
The prevalence of eating disorders in adolescents has doubled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a 2021 study, titled Changes in eating behavior related to individual factors and domestic during confinement by COVID-19, In Spain, alterations in eating habits are perceived in 75% of the population, more in homes with children, with a serious fixation on the labeling of what is eaten. “After the health crisis, we have found a significant increase in autolytic behaviors —any behavior that causes immediate mild or moderate destruction of the body surface, causing bleeding, bruising or pain—, even suicides in young patients,” says María Contreras. Galocha, health psychologist and co-director of the Vínculo Psychotherapy Center, specialists in eating disorders.
“The considerable increase in symptoms that have to do in minors with the relationship between the body and food and self-harm usually go hand in hand and manifest as large peaks in adolescent mental pathology,” he adds. For this expert, there are people who have not learned how to regulate themselves or have not been taught it and in moments of crisis or trauma regulate themselves emotionally through food: “The same thing can happen to the family group that surrounds these people and they do not have of the necessary tools in situations of lack of control and uncertainty”.
With her work, Contreras tries to help parents understand the meaning of the word psychopathology and that it has to do with deeper aspects, so that from there they can understand their children. “In systemic psychology, our theoretical framework for action, we think that both the person and the rest of the elements belonging to a system are part of the problem, both in terms of physique and success,” she explains. For the psychologist it is important that parents can teach values beyond external appearance and value their children for who they are.
Contreras explains that professionals work with families, allowing minors with eating disorders to have a space to express themselves freely: “The patient is the entire family, but one person, normally a child or young person, shows signs that there is some dysfunction in their family environment and can’t take the pressure anymore”. From there we work to offer solutions to fathers and mothers. The psychologist specifies that, for example, in the particular case of children with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder —minors with rigid and restricted eating habits, but who are not trying to lose weight— “clearly it is the parents who They must go to therapy to work and solve what is harming the child ”.
Parents with adolescent children with eating disorders must be aware that, although they are not guilty or responsible for what happens to them, they are an essential part of overcoming the disorder and this often makes them feel competent and prepared to get involved. . “Sometimes, the problem in minors with these pathologies are relationships at home,” Contreras stresses, “and the solution is to involve all family members and help everyone with the changes, not trap the children in stories of the adults”.
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