Serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorders affect millions of Americans each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 90 percent of individuals affected by eating disorders are adolescent girls or young women ages 12-25.
Eating disorders come in every shape, form, size, and gender alike. A lot of times when we thing of stereotypical eating disorder we think female and there are a lot of males that suffer from eating disorders as well.
What are the common types of eating disorders?
Two specific types, the first one is anorexia nervosa and that's typically categorized by a desire to be thin and with that comes pretty extreme calorie restriction and then there is the second type which is bulimia nervosa and bulimia tends to be something where someone might overeat they might eat a real excessive amount of calories in a very short amount of time and then they have to get rid of those calories via some sort of purge. Purging comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. A lot of times people thing of purging as just vomiting, and that's the only way but there is also over exercise use of laxatives, diuretics and things like that.
What causes someone to have an eating disorder?
There's many many reasons, sometimes it's just for image it starts off by I just want to look better and it becomes kind of an obsession or and then we start getting feedback from the public and they're like you look so good and that just makes us want to continue to go.
Sometimes it has to do with control the one thing that nobody else can have their hand in is what we put in our body. It's really up to us what that looks like and so it's that one thing we can hone in on.
Sometimes people really want to numb out their emotions. And one way that we can numb out our emotions is to really focus on a specific something and in this case a lot of times its caloric intake. Or not wanting to focus on our emotions and so we consume ourselves with food.
What are some warning signs to look out for?
The thing that comes to mind the most frequently is if the adolescent tends to avoid and they tend to avoid meal times they start to avoid activities that have to do with food or they are really hyper focused on weight, shape and size. And they are talking about weight shape and size a lot. They are talking about appearance they are talking about social media that has to do with those things.
Or if they see kiddos eat a meal and then they are running to the bathroom right afterwards or they are really starting to hole up after a meal because that could be an indicator of purging behavior.
I think any time a parent has a concern it's a good idea to get a professional opinion. On whether not this is something that is stereotypically normal or something that is of more concern. Once someone really gets into eating disorder patterns and eating disorder thinking it's typically a long road of treatment so the sooner the better.
How do you work with youths dealing with eating disorders?
Here at Boys Town we really work across the board with all of the different disorders as well as the ones that aren't specifically categorized both with family and with the individual.
We assess where they are at and how severe the eating concern is and then we may engage in individual therapy with that person or we may include family therapy so we can help family best support them. There is also typically a dietician that works with the individual.
And then there are regular appointments with your medical provider as well. Because when someone is really engaged in an eating disorder we need to make sure their internal functioning is just as strong as their mental health functioning.
Two of the most serious eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are on the rise among girls in their teenage years. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately one percent of adolescent girls will develop anorexia nervosa and an additional two to three percent will develop bulimia nervosa. It is also becoming more common in males.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition where the person literally starves herself/himself. It can be so severe that it may lead to death. The person can be clearly underweight but still perceive herself as fat. Although painfully hungry, a person with anorexia constantly watches what she eats and will usually deny being hungry. Persons afflicted with anorexia are often perfectionists and high achievers in school. However, they usually suffer from low self-esteem or depression and believe becoming thin will solve some or all of their problems.
Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
- Rapid loss of weight
- Feels faint when stands up too fast (caused by a drop in blood pressure)
- Irregular or nonexistent menstrual periods
- Always complains he or she is cold (due to a loss in body fat)
- Appears unusually pale
- Nails and hair become brittle
Bulimia most often affects older girls between the ages of 17 and 25. These individuals binge on large amounts of food and then purge themselves by self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercising. Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia tend to maintain normal or above normal body weight, making it easy for them to hide their problem.
Warning Signs of Bulimia
- Eating binges
- Dramatic weight fluctuations
- Long periods of time spent in the bathroom with the water running (hiding signs of vomiting)
- Scarring on the back of hands (caused by pushing fingers down the throat)
Both anorexia and bulimia lead to the same outcome. A child or adolescent with an eating disorder is malnourished. Serious damage is being done to his/her body that can effect growth and development, lead to early onset of osteopenia (bone disease), decrease mental awareness, increase depression and heart disease and possibly even death.
Many adolescents are successful at hiding their disorder so that family, friends and teachers don't even realize the child is suffering. If your child shows any of these warning signs or you suspect an eating disorder, discuss your concerns with a physician right away.