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Beating an Eating Disorder

With eating disorders affecting girls and boys at ever-younger ages, a surprisingly simple tactic might help: Dine as a family.

Since society has so much influence on adolescents because of the high prevalence of obesity and the pressure to be skinny, many girls are turning to unhealthy ways of controlling their weight. Prioritizing structured family meals that take place in a positive environment can protect girls from destructive eating habits. It doesn't have to be a home-cooked meal. The idea is to bring people together.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, have risen steadily, with a median onset age of 12 to 13.

Anorexia and bulimia can cause nutritional deficiencies, organ damage, and, in rare cases, death. It's vital to recognize and treat eating disorders quickly. Treatment involves mental health counseling and nutritional and medical therapy.

Although both anorexia and bulimia are much more common in girls than in boys, males are affected as well.

The sports connection

Both girls and boys are at higher risk for developing an eating disorder in certain sports that emphasize thinness or that have weight restrictions. For girls, the critical sports are gymnastics, ice-skating, and ballet. For boys, the sports include gymnastics, running, bodybuilding, rowing, wrestling, ballet, and swimming.

What to look for

Girls with anorexia:

  • Intensely fear being overweight

  • Have a distorted body image

  • Are typically perfectionists with low self-esteem

  • Eat very little, count calories, and may weigh portions

  • Often say they are vegetarians

  • Often lose weight rapidly

  • Deny feeling hungry and avoid eating in front of others

  • May exercise compulsively

  • Withdraw from social activities

Girls with bulimia:

  • Eat huge amounts within hours, then "purge" their bodies by taking laxatives or vomiting

  • Often make excuses to go to the bathroom right after meals

  • May eat abnormally large amounts of food without gaining weight

  • May have average or above-average weights

  • Often have pitted or eroded tooth enamel from stomach acid in the mouth after vomiting

  • May appear to have swollen cheeks, from enlarged salivary glands

  • Withdraw from social activities

Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Roux, Susan L., ARNP
Last Review Date: 8/31/2013
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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