Humans need food and water to live. Kids especially need to eat
healthy food - and enough of it - to grow and develop. But for some
kids, they hear about food making them "too fat" or they
start to worry about food - and some kids stop eating right, eat
too little, or try to make themselves throw up after they eat.
Doing this can make kids get very sick - without enough food, or
if a kid keeps throwing up - it makes our bodies stop growing and
developing in a healthy way. If this goes on for a long time, kids
can get very sick and need to go to hospital to be fed through a
tube in their nose. Sometimes people can't stop their bodies
getting so sick, and it can even lead to death. Why, then, would
anyone do it? Well, there isn't just one answer - there are
Some say it's because there are lots of too-thin models and
movie or TV stars. We see these people's bodies on TV, the
computer, or in a magazine and might feel that we want to look like
that too because they seem rich and happy all the time. A lot of us
like the way that TV stars and sports celebrities look, or they
wish their own bodies looked different.
But that's probably not the whole story. Most kids just
enjoy looking at pictures of famous people and seeing them on TV,
but it doesn't make them change their own lives. Some might
start trying to eat healthy and exercise, or ask their parents if
they can help them to be more healthy.
But some people go on a diet, which means they start eating less
food - and sometimes dieting can get out of control. Some kids at
school might start competing about how little they have eaten that
day. Some brag about having a diet soda for breakfast. But this can
be the start of unhealthy eating problems.
Anyone can have an eating disorder: boys and girls, kids, teens,
and adults. Let's find out more about eating disorders.
What Is Anorexia?
You've probably heard about anorexia, which is also called
-suh). With this problem, the main thing is that someone becomes
very afraid of gaining weight and also thinks his or her body is
too fat (even if the person is thin). Some people just lose a lot
of weight by extreme dieting (not eating enough), and some also
might vomit after they eat.
People with anorexia often have
depression or anxiety
. To help someone with anorexia, it is important to have a doctor,
therapist, and nutritionist to help, as well as your family.
Some of the symptoms of anorexia include:
- losing lots of weight
- denying feeling hungry (saying you are not hungry even if you
- exercising too much
- feeling fat
- withdrawing from social activities (not wanting to go to
parties or out for dinner)
What Is Bulimia?
Instead of starving themselves, people who have
. That means they will binge (that is, eat a huge amount of food,
like a tub of ice cream, then a big bag of chips, then a box of
cookies in 2 hours or so), then purge (try to get rid of it by
or taking laxatives, usually in secret).
Kids who have bulimia usually feel helpless and that they
can't get control over what they eat or other things in their
lives. Bingeing and purging can be a way for them to have some
control. Kids sometimes develop bulimia when something new or
stressful enters their life, like a
to a new town or a parents'
. Kids with bulimia can sometimes be harder to spot than kids with
anorexia because their weight is often in the range of what's
Some of the symptoms that kids with bulimia might have
- making excuses to go to the bathroom immediately after
- eating huge amounts of food without weight gain
- using laxatives or diuretics (medicine that makes you poop
- withdrawing from social activities
What Causes Eating Disorders?
There really is no single cause for an eating disorder. Most
kids who develop anorexia do so between the ages of 11 and 14
(although it can start as early as age 7), and there are many
reasons why. Some kids just don't feel good about themselves on
the inside and this makes them try to change the outside. They
might be depressed or
about things and feel as though they have no control over their
lives. They see what they eat (or don't eat) as something that
they can control.
Sometimes kids involved in certain sports might feel they need
to change their body or be thin to compete. Girls who model also
might be more likely to develop an eating disorder. All of these
girls know their bodies are being watched closely, and they may
develop an eating disorder in an attempt to make their bodies more
When boys develop eating disorders, it's usually because
they're in a sport that emphasizes weight, such as wrestling.
Wrestlers compete based on weight classes. For instance,
there's one class for 75-pound boys and another for 80-pound
boys. Wrestlers feel pressure to stay in their weight class, which
is called "making weight."
Eating disorders also may run in families, which means if
someone in your family has one, you might be at risk for developing
one, too. A kid may be more likely to develop an eating disorder if
a parent is overly concerned with the kid's appearance or if
the parent isn't comfortable with his or her own body.
Can Somebody Catch an Eating Disorder?
You can't catch an eating disorder from someone the way you
can catch a cold. But the friends who you spend time with can
influence you and how you see yourself. If your friends think the
most important thing is to be thin, you may start to feel that way,
too. And if they are doing unhealthy things to be thin, you might
feel pressure to do so, too.
Eating Disorders Do Damage
No one wants to be overweight, but your body needs some fat to
work properly. Someone whose weight gets too low will start having
health problems. If this goes on too long, those problems may be
severe and can cause death.
Anorexia may do damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys. A girl
with anorexia may be delayed in getting her period or stop getting
her period. Breathing, blood pressure, and pulse also may drop -
this is the body's way of shifting into low gear to protect
itself. Fingernails may break and hair may fall out, too.
Kids with anorexia often do not feel well - they suffer from
headaches, dizziness, and concentration difficulties. They also may
become withdrawn and moody. And people with anorexia will feel
chilly even in warm weather because they don't have enough body
fat to keep them warm.
For kids with bulimia, the most serious problem is that their
purging means a loss of potassium, an important nutrient. Potassium
is found in foods such as bananas, tomatoes, beans, and melons. Too
little potassium can lead to dangerous heart problems.
Someone who has bulimia might have problems with tooth decay
because puke is acidic. Too much throwing up also can cause
"chipmunk cheeks," when glands in the cheeks actually
expand. People with bulimia also may damage their stomachs and
kidneys and have constant stomach pain. Like girls with anorexia,
girls with bulimia also may stop menstruating.
In addition to the health problems, kids who have an eating
disorder are probably not having much fun. Typically, these kids
miss out on good times because they pull away from friends and keep
to themselves. They don't want to have pizza with their friends
or enjoy a birthday party.
Signs of Eating Disorders
Weight loss is not normal, or healthy, for kids because they are
growing. If you or someone you know is losing weight, you should
talk with a parent, teacher, coach, or other adult that you trust.
If a friend is skipping meals, becomes obsessed with how many
calories are in food, or starts exercising all the time, these may
be additional signs something is wrong. With bulimia, the signs
would be someone who's storing or buying a lot of food, then
hiding out to binge and purge.
Talking about having a problem and getting help is the first
step to getting back to being healthy again. It's important to
take action as soon as possible. Someone with an eating disorder
may see a doctor, a dietitian, and a counselor or therapist.
Together, the team can help the person achieve the goals of
reaching a healthy weight, following a nutritious diet, and feeling
good about himself or herself again.
Michelle New, PhD
Date reviewed: December 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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