Eating disorders affect millions of Americans, and all too many are kids. Body image issues begin young; according to a U.S. News report, approximately 40 percent of American girls ages 9 and 10 reporting being or having been on a diet to lose weight. KidsHealth.org states that eating disorders are so common in America that 1 or 2 out of every 100 students will struggle with one with many developing their disorders between 13 and 17 years old. Long Island Mamas discusses eating disorder FAQs and lists local resources for Long Island families seeking support.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are treatable medical illnesses. They used to be most frequently found in affluent neighborhoods and in Caucasian female teens, but that’s not true anymore. Eating disorders touch all neighborhoods, ethnic groups, genders, and are even being diagnosed in elementary and middle school-age children. It’s important for families to know what to look for and where to turn for help.
Eating disorders can appear in several different forms:
- Anorexia Nervosa – Characterized by excessive weight loss and an excessively restrictive diet.
- Bulimia Nervosa – Characterized by binging (consuming mass quantities of food) and purging (via laxatives, vomiting, and/or excessive exercise).
- Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, or DSM IV, has an extensive list of diagnostic criteria. If someone meets most, but not all, of the necessary symptoms, they are generally diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
Who is at risk for developing eating disorders?
Some groups have a higher risk of developing eating disorders:
- Athletes – Individuals participating in judged sports or activities where body weight is important (ballet, gymnastics, wrestling, dancing, figure skating, etc.) tend to have a high incidence of eating disorders.
- Females – This gender is more likely to develop eating disorders than males. Roughly 90% of all diagnosed cases are young women, but young men are more likely to attempt to control their body weight and size in other ways.
- Abuse Victims – Abuse victims, particularly individuals who were sexually abused as children, run a greater risk of being diagnosed with an eating disorder later in life.
- “Type A” Personalities – These higher strung personalities are also at a high risk. Puberty and hormonal changes in teen years can trigger eating disorders in individuals who like to be in control of everything.
What Should Families Look For?
Drastic personality changes may be an indicator, though look for some specific behaviors associated with eating disorders: avoiding meals/refusal to eat in front of other people, lying about the amount of food eaten, excessive weighing, increased isolation from others, a distorted image of their appearance, evidence of binging/purging/excessive exercise or denial that they have an illness.
Keep in mind that a child or teen can show some symptoms but not have a diagnosable eating disorder. In these situations, talking to them can be helpful in resolving the issues. Contact the child’s guidance counselor or school social worker so that they can assist in monitoring the situation.
How are eating disorders treated?
Treatment plans vary by individual, their age and diagnosis. A combination of psychological counseling, nutritional support services and medication are usually recommended. Hospitalization may be necessary in extreme or prolonged cases.
The following organizations can provide more information about eating disorders and support for families and individuals:
Eating Disorder Associates
ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders)
Find local treatment options through its site.
Reaching Out Against Eating Disorders
Offers support groups in Manhattan and Long Island
Psychology & Wellness Services P.C.
Kings Park/Suffolk County/Long Island
North Shore LIJ
Eating Disorders Support Group – Huntington Hospital
By Rachel Minkowsky