I'm Worried My Child May Have An Eating Disorder...PART 1

 “I think the problem is that food and I just don’t get along.”

Her struggles with food started right around the age of 11.  As a young girl, she was petite.  She had the body of a little athlete…long legs, flat stomach and teeny muscles.  But, then, as it does in the life of every girl, puberty reared its hormonal head.  At 12, she felt like a different person.  She worried about what other people thought.  She felt insecure.  And, much to her dismay, she believed that she looked “round”.  Her stomach had taken on a new shape, her breasts, her bottom and even her legs were more curvy.  And she hated it.

At 15, she sat in our counseling offices and pointed back to the age of 12 as the onset of a struggle with food that continued to plague her.  “I used to hear all of the time how cute I was.  And then it just stopped.  No one said I was attractive…or little.  No one said anything.”  So, I thought, I must be fat.   This young girl was in the throes of bulimia, one of several eating disorders that are bombarding the culture and lives of too many kids today.

Accoding to The Renfrew Center, a leading treatment center for eating disorders, the most common types and definitions are:

 Anorexia Nervosa is self-imposed starvation. Anorexia is a serious, life-threatening eating disorder which usually stems from underlying emotional causes. Although people with this eating disorder are obsessed with food, they continually deny their hunger.  Anorexia can cause severe medical problems and even lead to death.

Bulimia Nervosa is the repeated cycle of out-of-control eating followed by some form of purging. Bulimia is a serious eating disorder which can be fatal. The purging associated with bulimia may be self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, or obsessive exercising.

Binge Eating Disorder can affect girls or boys, though it appears twice as often among girls. People with this eating disorder suffer from episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing followed by periods of guilt and depression. Binge eating is marked by the consumption of large amounts of food, sometimes accompanied by a pressured, "frenzied" feeling. Binge eating disorder may cause a person to continue to eat even after she (or he) becomes uncomfortably full.

Eating disorders are more rampant than most of us have any idea.  The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in 5 women struggle with an eating disorder or disorder eating.  In the American Journal of Psychiatry, it was reported that 10 to 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.  And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Office reports that 90% of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25.  In terms of teenagers, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that currently 11% of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.  The website treatmentofeatingdisorders.org states that 40% of teens want to lose weight to look thinner and  80% of ten year-old children worry about being overweight.

The statistics are staggering.  Since the 1960’s, the occurrence of eating disorders has doubled in our nation.  In our own counseling ministry, the amount of children has not significantly increased, but the age of onset has decreased.  In other words, girls and boys are more and more worried about the way they look and what they eat at younger ages.

What can you do as a parent to prevent these problems?  A lot.  And we’ll fill you in on those next week.