Our national obsession with being thin is harming our young people, causing them to worry about their body images and tie their self-worth to appearance. Bulimia and other eating disorders are on the rise – and they’re being found in younger children.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States have eating disorders. Although the average age of onset is 12 to 13, about half of girls between the ages of 6 and 12 worry about becoming overweight. And the problem does not discriminate based on gender, race or culture.
Early Detection Is Key
Along with anorexia, bulimia is one of the most common eating disorders. People with bulimia binge eat too much food in a brief time, which makes them ashamed and anxious they are losing control of their weight. They then try to prevent weight gain by making themselves throw up, or by using laxatives, diet pills, diuretics or enemas. They also may exercise to extreme limits.
Bulimia often is tied to other emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety, and it can cause serious permanent damage to the body. However, if caught early, it is usually treatable.
Learn the Warning Signs
People with bulimia often withdraw from family and friends to keep their condition hidden. And sometimes it can be difficult to decide if your tween or teen is in the early stages of an eating disorder or just having a bad day.
Be on the look out for these warning signs of bulimia:
- Evidence of binge eating, such as stealing food from the kitchen or hiding food or empty wrappers in the bedroom or other strange places.
- Behaviors that signal purging, such as disappearing to the bathroom after meals, signs or smells of vomiting, empty boxes of laxatives or diuretics.
- Extreme exercise regimen, even if your child is injured or the weather is bad.
- Calluses or cuts on the back of the hand and knuckles from inducing vomiting.
- Discoloration of teeth and/or frequent sore throats.
- Obsession with weight and appearance.
- Withdrawal from friends and activities.
If you notice any of these red flags, first talk to your child; let them know you are there for them. Seek counseling as soon as possible.
Do you think your child has an eating disorder? What are you doing to teach your children to like themselves as they are?
Dr. Diana Schulz is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Summer Creek Clinic. Her medical philosophy includes providing parents with information and guidance so they feel comfortable with caring for their children and making sure “we all have a little fun too!”