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Kids with eating disorders avoid “treats” of the season

By: Jessica J. Witt, MSN, RN, CPNP
Clinical Services Manager - Eating Disorder Services Milwaukee

Be alert to children who are afraid to eat, touch, or be around candy.Eating Disorder Treatment

Halloween is the black and orange day that inaugurates the season of food-centered holidays in our nation. Children and teens get dressed up in their favorite costumes and gather as much candy as humanly possible in a two to three hour period. You have seen kids running from door to door and grabbing handfuls of candy, taking it home, and competing with brothers and sisters by counting how many pieces each one gets. This is totally normal and enjoyable…that is for most kids.

Some children and adolescents, however, do not partake in this event on all Hallows’ Eve. Not due to religious reasons or cultural beliefs, but because they are terrified to eat, touch, or even be around candy. Children and adolescents with eating disorders have extreme fear of eating foods high in calories and fat.

Recently, I asked children and adolescents in our program for eating disorders about their experiences with trick-or-treat and candy-eating in the past weeks. I asked, “How did Halloween and trick-or-treating make you feel?” the answers I received were:

  • “not good”
  • “guilty”
  • “anxious”
  • “excited”
  • “bored”
  • “weird/awkward/annoyed”
  • “unhappy, sad, mad, depressed”
  • “sick and gross”

One particular teenager stated “I felt guilty trick or treating, taking candy that I wouldn’t eat, and seeing it make people happy to be giving it, thinking it was making me happy to be getting candy”.

These are not typical post trick or treating comments! When asked how eating pieces of candy made them feel, some of the comments were:

  • “Bad, I felt fat afterwards.”
  • “I felt disgusted with myself afterward.”
  • “I ate candy and binged so not very well and I felt disgusting.”
  • “I felt terrible, unhappy, guilty and mad.”
  • “I got a headache and felt sick, I felt really bad about eating candy.”
  • “It made me feel anxious.”

Help is available for kids who focus on food, instead of fun

Children and teens with eating disorders really struggle at this time of year. Be aware of comments. Be concerned when they are not acting “like a kid should act” around the holidays. Halloween is just the beginning of a difficult fall and winter season that is so focused on treats and food.

Be mindful of what you say to these kids and if you have concerns with their eating habits or weight discuss it with them and/or their family. There is help – all it takes is a phone call!

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