What’s Eating Our Kids?
Did you know that eating disorders are starting to be diagnosed in girls as young as 11? Traditionally, they were not thought to be diagnosable until closer to adulthood, but more and more, doctors are seeing behaviours consistent with anorexia nervosa and bulimia in younger and younger girls.
Eating disorders can be hard to diagnose, because the diagnostic criteria isn’t always applicable to children. But the effects of an undiagnosed eating disorder can be devastating — physically, emotionally, and socially.
While there are no hard and fast rules in identifying eating disorders, parents should be alert to certain signs. Changing moods or attitudes, a developing preoccupation with food, and changes in social behaviours or appearance are certainly not exclusive to eating disorders, but they are signs to watch for. An obsession with fitness or exercise is also a clue — as is running to the bathroom right after eating.
And of course, the most reliable indicator of a problem is your gut. If you feel there is a problem, there probably is. Don’t talk yourself out of getting it checked out.
Luckily, there are now more and more programs focused on addressing teen and preteen eating disorders. If your doctor isn’t able to provide you with treatment options specifically tailored to teens, do an Internet search. Psychotherapist Abigail Natenshon’s web site has a lot of specific information and support, for example. Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto also has an eating disorders program.
What if you think your son is the one with the eating disorder? Well, sadly, eating disorders are on the rise for boys, too. Their motivations for wanting to lose weight are often different than girls, but the warning signs are the same.