What Are Eating Disorders?
- Eating disorders are disturbances in eating behavior, such as eating less or severely overeating as well as feelings of distress or extreme concern about body shape or weight.
- Eating Disorders affect every part of an individual’s life. He or she may become more focused or obsessed about school work and it may affect their relationships with others.
- A person with an Eating Disorder may start out eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat more or less spirals out of control.
- Common eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
- Eating Disorders affect females and males and usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood, although it can occur earlier or later.
- Eating disorders can cause many physical and psychological problems if left untreated.
- Children and adolescents cannot recover from an Eating Disorder on their own.
- Not eating enough will lead to changes in mood including irritability, anger, and sadness.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
There are several factors that may lead to the development of an eating disorder although there is no definite cause. Contributing factors include:
- Biological factors: Eating disorders often run in families.
- Social factors: Unrealistic pressures to obtain the “perfect” body
- Psychological factors: Commonly occurs with other mental health disorders including: depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,
low self-esteem; and feelings of lack of control
- Interpersonal factors: History of abuse; being teased for size or weight; traumatic life event(s); and difficulty expressing feelings and emotions
How You Can Help…
- If you suspect that your child or adolescent has developed an eating disorder, take him or her to see your family doctor as soon as possible.
- Eating Disorders are complicated and can cause a lot of stress at home. Children and adolescents need the support of their families and
mental health professionals to get better.
- Listen to your child or adolescent’s feelings
- Be patient. When the body is starving, your child or adolescent cannot think or act rationally
- Let your child or adolescent know you are concerned
- Do not blame your child or yourself, try to understand his or her feelings
- Focus on health and avoid making positive or negative comments about weight or appearance
- Try to avoid power struggles regarding food. If your adolescent wants to be a vegetarian, be supportive. Educate yourselves on how he or she can do that in a healthy manner. Adolescents will go through trendy eating periods, so try to set limits, encourage healthy eating, and avoid fighting over food issues.
- If you struggle with your own eating issues, get help for yourself as well
How do I know if my child or adolescent has an Eating Disorder?
Your child or youth…
- Seems preoccupied with food
- Is losing weight
- Is afraid to gain weight
- Persistent worry or complaints about being fat
- Is dieting but it seems excessive
- Hides food in some way (e.g., in a napkin) or cuts it into small pieces
- Goes to the bathroom immediately following a meal
- Skips meals or makes excuses for not eating
- Does not want to eat with the family
- Wears baggy or layered clothing
- Withdraws from normal social activities
The Eating Disorder may be more serious if you notice the following:
- Loses a lot of weight
- Skips meals or fasts on a regular basis
- Uses diet pills, laxatives or diuretics (to have more bowel movements or pass more urine)
- Exercises because she feels like she has to not because she wants to
- For females, misses two menstrual periods
- Is extreme about counting calories
- Weighs and measures food
- Will not eat food prepared by others
Specific Eating Disorders
- An eating disorder characterized by self-induced starvation and excessive weight loss.
- Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight.
- Individuals become obsessed with eating, food, and weight control.
- People with Anorexia Nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small quantities.
- Some people with Anorexia Nervosa may also engage in binge-eating followed by extreme dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and/or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
- Affects boys and girls.
Your child or adolescent…
- Has a distorted body image and diets excessively to lose weight
- Restricts food intake leading to a significantly low body weight to support his or her healthy development
- Has an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though he or she is underweight
Other symptoms may develop over time, including:
- Thinning of the bones
- Brittle hair and nails
- Dry and yellowish skin
- Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
- Mild anemia, muscle wasting and weakness
- Low blood pressure, slowed breathing, and slow heart rate
- Damage to the structure and function of the heart
- Brain damage
- Multi-organ failure
- Drop in internal body temperature, causing the person to feel cold all the time
- Feeling tired all the time
- An Eating Disorder involving frequent cycles of binge eating (excessive or compulsive consumption of food) and purging (getting rid of extra calories consumed)
- The binge eating and purging behaviors both occur, on average, at least once a week for three months
- Affects boys and girls
Your child or adolescent…
- Eats beyond the point of fullness
- Feels out of control during a binge
- Uses inappropriate compensatory behaviors following a binge: forced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors
- Is frequently dieting
- Is extremely concerned with body weight and shape
- Will likely maintain the same weight
Other symptoms may occur:
- Chronic sore throat
- Swollen glands in the neck and jaw area
- Tooth decay as a result of exposure to stomach acid
- Acid reflux and other gastrointestinal problems
- Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
- Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
- Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to heart attack.
- An Eating Disorder in which the individual eats a large amount of food in a short period of time but does not purge (get rid of it) after; they do not vomit, exercise or fast afterwards
- Binges, on average, at least once a week over three months
- The binge is often triggered by feelings the child or adolescent is unable to deal with
- During a binge, people often describe feeling a loss of control over eating
- People with binge-eating disorder often are over-weight or obese
- Affects boys and girls
Your child or adolescent…
- Has episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people with no ‘purging’ after (e.g., vomiting)
- Feels a lack of control during these episodes
- Eats too quickly, even when he or she is not hungry
- Feels guilt, embarrassment, distress afterwards which can lead to more binge-eating
- Binges alone to hide the behavior
Eating Disorders in Males:
- Males can develop eating disorders as well
- Males often are more concerned with body size such as building muscle than with weight loss
- Males may believe they can never be muscled-up enough
- Males are less likely to seek help due to the stigma
- The causes and contributing factors are the same for males and females
Treatments for Eating Disorders:
- Treatment depends on which eating disorder your child or adolescent is diagnosed with.
- Treatment requires a team-based approach including medical professionals, the family and the child or adolescent who is affected.
- Treatment focuses on helping kids cope with their disordered eating behaviors and establish new patterns of thinking about their body size, shape, eating, and food.
- Treatment typically includes: psychotherapy, family therapy, nutrition counseling, and medications
- Hospitalization may be required if your child or adolescent becomes medically unwell and requires closer monitoring.
Psychotherapy or Psychological Counselling:
Psychotherapy helps children and adolescents learn more about eating disorders and helps them understand their thoughts and feelings associated with the disorder. They work on improving their self-esteem and developing positive coping strategies.
There are different kinds of psychotherapy used for eating disorders:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ( individual or in a group)
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
- Family Therapy.
These all involve meeting with a psychologist or other trained mental health professional over a period of time. Therapy for an eating disorder will take time depending on the individual’s response.