Eating Disorders

by Emily Bitton, L.C.S.W., Coordinator, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest Eating Disorders Outreach Initiative

Does your child express dissatisfaction with how she or he looks?  Does your daughter feel that she is too fat?  Does your son need to “get cut?”  More and more teens and young adults today are at risk for developing some kind of eating disorder – a phenomenon in which food becomes the enemy, no longer something required for sustenance, but something that is “bad” and to be avoided.

An eating disorder may take on different forms.  It may manifest in severe restriction of food and drink, which is called Anorexia Nervosa.  Some people binge and then purge, whether through vomiting or over exercise, and that is called Bulimia Nervosa.  There are professionals who feel that binge eating without purging (BED) should be added to the category of eating disorders, and may be a major factor in the growing obesity epidemic.

While children should be encouraged to adopt healthy eating and exercise patterns, it is necessary to be aware if a dangerous line is crossed.  Parents need to be on the lookout for warning signs, which may include:  preoccupation with weight and eating, delay or cessation of menstruation in girls, overuse of laxatives and/or diet pills, and significant weight loss in either boys or girls.

When a child or young adult develops an eating disorder, the sooner it is detected and treated, the better the outcome.  Unfortunately, the behaviors are usually kept secret at all costs, and by the time it comes to the attention of parents and/or school personnel, it has been going on for some time.  Therefore, if a parent, a school nurse, a guidance counselor, or a teacher, suspects that something serious may be occurring, it is a good idea to confer with a professional who is trained to recognize and treat individuals with eating disorders.  Together it can be determined whether the behavior is within the range of normal, or severe enough to require intervention of some sort.

A long-term eating disorder may result in chronic health problems, emotional upset and isolation, and even death.  The sooner help is obtained, the better the prognosis.

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