Eating disorders in children: More common than you might think

 

What are eating disorders?

Eating Disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, emotions and ability to function in important areas of life. The good news is that with treatment, you can return to healthier eating habits.

Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly impact your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases.

 

What are the types of eating disorders?

Symptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder are the most common eating disorders. Other eating disorders include Rumination Disorder and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. When you have Anorexia, you excessively limit calories or use other methods to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids, or vomiting after eating. Efforts to reduce your weight, even when underweight, can cause severe health problems, sometimes to the point of deadly self-starvation.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: When you have Bulimia, you have episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over your eating.
  • Binge-Eating Disorder: When you have Binge-Eating Disorder, you regularly eat too much food (binge) and feel a lack of control over your eating.
  • Rumination Disorder: Rumination Disorder is repeatedly and persistently regurgitating food after eating.
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: In this case, you avoid food with certain sensory characteristics, such as colour, texture, smell or taste; or you’re concerned about the consequences of eating, such as fear of choking. The disorder can result in significant weight loss or failure to gain weight in childhood, as well as nutritional deficiencies that can cause health problems.

 

How to diagnose eating disorders?

Assessments and tests generally include:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will likely examine you to rule out other medical causes for your eating issues. He or she may also order lab tests.
  • Psychological evaluation: A doctor or mental health professional will likely ask about your thoughts, feelings and eating habits. You may also be asked to complete psychological self-assessment questionnaires.
  • Other studies: Additional tests may be done to check for any complications related to your eating disorder.

 

What is the cause of eating disorders?

The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes, such as:

  • Genetics and biology: Biological factors, such as changes in brain chemicals, may play a role in eating disorders.
  • Psychological and emotional health: Children with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems in forms like low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior and troubled relationships.

 

How to prevent eating disorders?

Here are some strategies to help your child develop healthy-eating behaviors:

  • Avoid dieting around your child
  • Talk to your child about the risks of unhealthy eating choices
  • Cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image
  • Enlist the help of your pediatrician

 

What is the treatment for eating disorders?

For patients with eating disorders who are medically stable, determining the treatment setting requires a thorough general medical and psychiatric evaluation. Treatment options usually include in-patient hospitalization, partial hospital (day program), and out-patient care. Clinical judgment and some degree of individuation is required. The choice is based upon the severity of illness as well as underlying or concurrent general medical and psychiatric disorders.

 

Who should I consult for eating disorders at SRCC?

  • Pediatrician: Any child with weight or emotional issues needs a proper physical evaluation. Children with diagnosed eating disorders need an evaluation to make sure that there are no medical complications related to the illness.
  • Psychologist and Psychiatrist: All patients with eating disorder need a full psychological evaluation to look for underlying emotional issues. Psychiatric evaluation may be needed in severe cases to rule out underlying emotional illnesses like depression or anxiety.
  • Nutritionist: All patients need a full nutritional assessment and a nutrition plan.

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