Parents Important in the Prevention, Awareness of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are now epidemic in the United States. Approximately 11 million women and girls struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Although the average age of onset is 14, girls are being diagnosed as young as 8.
In years past, an eating disorder stereotype existed. This person was female, white, usually first-born or an only child, a high achiever and from an affluent family. That stereotype is long gone. Today, anorexia and bulimia are equal-opportunity disorders. They flourish in every culture, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic group, and religion throughout our country. And, whereas eating disorders were once exclusively a female issue, this is no longer the case. Anorexia and bulimia are also on the rise in the male population.
In other words, no individual is exempt and no family is immune. The following is designed to provide parents with the information required to understand eating disorders and help prevent one from occurring in their home.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses, not unlike depression or anxiety. Those with an eating disorder use food in an unhealthy manner to cope with unpleasant emotions or difficult life situations. Anorexia and bulimia are two of the most common and dangerous of these disorders.
Anorexia is defined by self-starvation. Those with this illness intentionally starve themselves to dangerously thin levels, at least 15 percent below what would be considered a normal weight. Anorexia is an addictive behavior. It is often accompanied by body distortion. This means the one practicing the behavior literally does not see what everyone else does. Regardless of how emaciated she becomes, she still sees an overweight girl in the mirror.
Bulimia is an extremely complex disorder that is difficult for most people to understand. It rarely occurs in very young children. It is far more likely to manifest in adolescents. When a girl has bulimia, she uncontrollably binges on large amounts of food and then purges through vomiting, starving, excessive exercise, laxatives, or other methods. This behavior also has addictive qualities. An individual with bulimia may purge more than 20 times a day.
Eating Disorders Contributing Factors and Warning Signs
What causes an eating disorder is highly individualized; it is rarely the result of one isolated event or life situation. Certain factors can contribute to the onset of an eating disorder in a child or adolescent girl. These include genetics; peer pressure; dieting; trauma; media influence; life transitions; athletics and perfectionism.
The most obvious sign of anorexia is extreme and rapid weight loss. These girls often diet obsessively, focus inordinate interest on calories, carbohydrates and fat grams, complain about being fat and display an extreme preoccupation with food. A girl with anorexia will never admit to being hungry, even though she is starving.