Over five million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are found at every social and economical level, and can occur at any age. In fact, the most common age is when a child is near the teen years, but kids can develop an eating disorder at any age – so can adults, for that matter!
Girls suffering from eating disorders outnumber the boys 10 to 1, but boys are far from exempt. In fact, Dr Richard Morton, a London physician reported the first case of anorexia in a teenage male in 1694.
Eating disorders are tricky, as the victim is unlikely to share this problem, even with their closest friends or family member. You must be aware of the warning signs and be conscious of even the smallest changes in your child or loved one.
WARNING SIGNS OF EATING DISORDERS
· Intense fear of becoming fat
· Compulsive exercising
· Follows own diet; is preoccupied with food; has strange food rituals; toys with food
· Spends long periods of time in the bathroom after meals
· Refuses to eat in front of people; hides or denies eating
· Eats rapidly, without control then feels shame
· Exhibits a large weight loss in a short period of time; look gaunt
· Exhibits strange weight fluctuations
· Has low self-esteem, yet has unrealistic, perfectionist standards
· Attributes successes or failures to weight
· Hides food or laxatives
· Wears loose, baggy clothing
· Seems depressed, isolated or lonely
· Demonstrates fatigue and muscle weakness
· Developed downy hair on face and arms, or thinning hair/hair loss
· Denies problem with food or eating
· Has dental erosion
· Feels undeserving of life’s pleasures
All eating disorders are psychological illnesses and require medical attention. Just because your child’s weight appears normal does not mean there is not a problem – only 30% of children with eating disorders are considered overweight! If you suspect your child may have an eating disorder, consult you physician for assistance. Without medical attention, severe nutritional deficiencies and/or dehydration may occur, resulting in improper growth and possible severe, life-threatening illness.
EATING DISORDERS EXPLAINED
Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia means loss of appetite. In short, anorexia is when your child is starving himself/herself.
The first indication is usually an intense concern or fear of becoming obese, which fails to diminish as weight loss progresses. Many anorexics still voice opinions of being fat long after the body has become emaciated, and they fail to see the dangers of such depravation.
Anorexia can be a life-threatening condition. Kids fail to make clear, rational decisions regarding health and they become obsessed with calories and food intake. They refuse to sustain their caloric intake regardless of how hungry they become. Often, they use food depravation as a way to control reactions to internal and external conflicts or stressors. These kids are often lacking in self- esteem, and since body image and acceptance are of the utmost importance, these children will go through any extreme – even if it means starving to death!
Treatment involves a team approach where medical care, nutritional counseling and psychotherapy are used to treat health problems, and understand and problem-solve issues that may have lead him/her to this irrational behavior.
This eating disorder affects more than just your child’s weight – it affects their overall health! Growth may be stunted and body systems may begin to fail. Constipation is common, due to the lack of food. Food and fluid intake is vital to keep the bowels moving and without nutrition, the intestinal muscles become weakened.
Your child may have difficulty sleeping, yet may exercise for hours on end to burn the few calories they may have taken in to avoid weight gain. Their immune system becomes weak, thus opening avenues for illness.
The younger the child when he/she develops anorexia, the less likely they are to recover. About one third of anorexics have long-term difficulties coping with food and weight. Therefore, it is imperative to seek medical attention and provide a loving, supportive environment to increase the likelihood of recovery.
Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia is defined as an excessive, insatiable appetite. It is a neurotic disorder characterized by bouts of overeating or bingeing, followed by voluntary purging through vomiting, fasting or induced diarrhea. Many practice voluntary vomiting without gorging as a way to control weight and to release pent-up emotional tensions.
Bulimics are typically normal when it comes to weight, or perhaps even slightly on the heavy side. Their body weight rarely falls below critical levels. But any eating disorder should be treated with a sense of urgency, for the longer it is permitted to go on, the worse long-term effects it may have on health.
Chronic heartburn and dental erosion are common due to the acid buildup that occurs from frequent vomiting. This acid burns mucous membranes of the esophagus and in severe cases, the esophagus may hemorrhage. A dangerous imbalance of salts and potassium can occur, leading to heart rhythm disturbances. In addition, victims can experience swollen glands, stomach pains, sore throats and mood swings.
Any eating disorders, including bulimia, must be treated appropriately, with a team approach similar to anorexics. The difficulty lies with the child’s ability to hide such behaviors for extended periods of time – and since weight does not seems to be a problem, many bulimics are overlooked. Telltale signs of this behavior: scratches on the knuckles or the backs of the hand due to induced vomiting; spending an excessive amount of time in the bathroom after meals with plumbing inexplicably and routinely becoming clogged; or an excessive use of diuretics and laxatives. When in doubt of your child’s health, always consult with your physician.
Binge Eating. Binge eating differs from bulimia, as there is no purging, therefore there may be no outward signs. Bingers may be of normal weight or sometimes, slightly overweight.
Binge eaters are considered compulsive overeaters. They lack control when it comes to food and may inhale enormous quantities of food even when they are not hungry. They may eat rapidly and usually alone. They tend to hoard food and sneak eating.
Binge eaters typically have no telltale signs of an eating disorder, yet they battle with emotional issues, such as guilt and feelings of disgust after a binge. They are also at a higher risk for developing problems associated with obesity, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease and diabetes.
Binge eaters require a comprehensive treatment program also. Not only are there health risks associated with a poor diet, there are emotional issues as well.
MEDICAL CONSEQUENCES OF EATING DISORDERS
There are medical consequences for every unhealthy choice we make, but eating disorders come with a whole list of side effects that may not be immediately evident! Just because your child seems healthy, if he/she has an eating disorder, ignoring it may only cause problems in the future!
· High blood pressure
· Increased cholesterol
· Kidney disease/failure
· Bone deterioration
· Upper respiratory problems
· Skin disorders
· Anxiety or mood disorders
· Suicidal thoughts/tendencies
· Substance abuse
Any eating disorder is a serious threat to the overall health of your child and should be treated accordingly. Nutritional counseling provides important information regarding essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients required for normal growth and regulation of body systems – without fuel in your car, it will not run – the same can be said about your body!
Medical intervention is necessary when the disorder begins to affect health. A medical emergency can occur with any eating disorder and immediate medical attention is required if your child develops chest pains, faintness, irregular heart rhythm or extreme weight loss – these are considered life threatening, and should not be taken lightly!
Psychotherapy is also necessary for a complete recovery. Your child must be made aware of the reasons behind the eating disorder. They also must be guided through proper and acceptable methods for reducing stress and coping with problems. They must learn to curb inappropriate compensatory behaviors and replace them with health alternatives.
Recovery of an eating disorder is ongoing and may require consistent monitoring. Set backs are normal and should be expected. Treatment and recovery involves the whole family. Support in a caring, loving environment is crucial. An overall nutritional plan and stress management program increase the chances of recovery, and the more support they receive, the better the odds at beating an eating disorder!