Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

This disorder involves extreme weight loss. The individual believes they are overweight, even as they become much too thin to be considered healthy. In some cases, anorexia nervosa can lead to death. Girls are far more likely to be anorexic than boys.

Symptoms include:

  • Skipping meals. Eating very small portions, or not eating in front of other people.
  • The person may eat in ritualistic ways (carefully cutting and eating very small pieces of food; separating food to make it appear more is being eaten, etc.)
  • There is often an excuse to not eat
  • Will only eat low-calorie or low-fat food
  • Loses hair, looks pale and malnourished
  • Wears baggy clothes to hide their thinness
  • Complains of being overweight despite being too thin
  • Complains about specific body parts
  • Exercises too much; exercise becomes a kind of obsession
  • Having unrealistic standards of perfection for self and others
  • Withdraws from friends and family; becomes isolated socially
  • Can’t talk easily about feelings – especially anger

Bulimia Nervosa

This disorder involves periods of overeating followed by attempts to prevent weight gain such as throwing up the food, using laxatives, excessive exercising. This behavior is often called “binging and purging”.

Symptoms include:

  • Binges (overeats), many times, usually in secret
  • Cupboards and refrigerator can be emptied
  • Buys junk food
  • Uses diet pills, laxatives or other so-called natural products that promote weight loss
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs to deaden appetite or to escape emotional stress or pain
  • Can act impulsively and make poor decisions they later regret. This can include activities involving sex, money, school, or friendships
  • Leaves clues that hint they may want their problem to be discovered (for example: empty food packages, running water to cover sounds of throwing up, containers of vomit left where they can be found, use of breath fresheners, etc.)

Eating Disorder Causes

Not every person with an eating disorder will have all of these contributing factors. However, the following are suspected contributors to eating disorders.

  • Pressures from family or friends to be thin
  • Pressure to be thin as depicted in pop culture on magazines and movies
  • Poor self-image and self-confidence
  • Belief that being thin will make them more popular or appealing
  • Overly controlling parents who do not allow emotions to be displayed
  • Using food as a way to cope with negative emotions such as anger.
  • Past or present sexual abuse
  • Certain personality types may be more at risk. For example, obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a risk factor
  • Too much or too little of certain types of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (especially serotonin)
  • Mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol/drug addiction, can occur together with eating disorders. These problems can reinforce each other in a “vicious cycle”

What to Do if You Suspect an Eating Disorder

Left untreated, eating disorders can lead to malnutrition, muscle damage, skin and hair and nail damage, dental problems, ulcers, diabetes, anemia, kidney or liver or pancreas failure, bone mass loss, arthritis, infertility, seizures, heart attack or even death.

  • Do not act shocked, criticize or judge your child
  • Do not attempt to be the only counselor; seek professional treatment immediately
  • Understand that treatment can take a long time; it might even involve hospitalization
  • Be open to the fact that treatment can involve counseling for the entire family
  • Eating disorders can be difficult to understand and treat, so parental support in terms of patience, love and understanding are critically important to recovery

Written by 4Parents. Used with permission.