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The number of people under the age of 12 admitted to the hospital for eating disorders skyrocketed 119 percent in less than a decade.  These diseases now account for 4% of all childhood hospitalizations. -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services




Will being ADOPTED make adolescence  harder for my child?


How can I deal with the ANGER

 in our family?


Is my teen's BEHAVIOR just normal teenage rebellion?


What do parents and teachers need to know about BULLYING?


How do I find a THERAPIST for my teen?




How can I help my OVERWEIGHT



How do I find a good OUTDOOR PROGRAM for my teen?


My teen is cutting.  What do I need to know about  SELF-INJURY?


What is 'normal' teen SEXUAL BEHAVIOR and what is cause for concern?


How can I help my teen adjust to our STEPFAMILY?






Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa  -  Bulimia  -  Binge Eating  -  Depression  -  Self-Injury

Help & Support for Eating Disorders  -  More Information on Eating Disorders



Eating disorders involve serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating, as well as feelings of distress or extreme concern about body shape or weight.


Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but can occur during childhood or later in adulthood.





Three eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are on the increase among teenage girls and young women and often run in families.

  • Anorexia and bulimia affect nearly 10 million women and one million men (primarily teens and young adults) in reported cases in the U.S. and can be fatal.

  • Anorexia nervosa has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental illness.

  • The average age of sufferers is dropping rapidly (as young as elementary school), with peak onset among girls ages 11-13.

  • It's estimated that another 25 million people suffer from binge eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa


Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.  The diagnosis of anorexia is made when the anorexic either loses fifteen percent (15%) of their weight or when the growing child fails to acquire eighty-five percent (85%) of the minimal weight for their particular age and height.


Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, body type, age, and activity level

  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”

  • Feeling “fat” or overweight despite dramatic weight loss

  • Loss of menstrual periods

  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape

  • Sore throat and painless swelling of the cheeks from vomiting

A teenager with anorexia nervosa is typically a perfectionist and a high achiever in school.  At the same time, she suffers from low self-esteem, irrationally believing she is fat regardless of how thin she becomes.  Desperately needing a feeling of mastery over her life, the teenager with anorexia nervosa experiences a sense of control only when she says "no" to the normal food demands of her body.  In a relentless pursuit to be thin, the girl starves herself.  This often reaches the point of serious damage to the body and, in a small number of cases, may lead to death.


Bulimia nervosa


Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging.  Bulimia includes eating large amounts of food -- more than most people would eat in one meal -- in short periods of time, then getting rid of the food and calories through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising.


It is difficult to detect bulimia.  Many individuals with the disorder remain at normal body weight or above because of their frequent binges and purges, which can range from once or twice a week to several times a day.  Dieting heavily between episodes of bingeing and purging is also common.  Eventually, half of those with anorexia will develop bulimia.


Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Repeated episodes of bingeing on high-caloric food

  • Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness

  • Purging after a binge (typically by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting)

  • Frequent dieting, with binges alternating with severe diets

  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape

  • Hiding the signs of throwing up by running water while spending long periods of time in the bathroom

  • Sore throat and painless swelling of the cheeks from vomiting

The purging of bulimia presents a serious threat to the patient's physical health, including dehydration, hormonal imbalance, the depletion of important minerals, and damage to vital organs.


Binge Eating Disorder


Binge eating disorder (also known as Compulsive Overeating) is characterized primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full.


Symptoms of binge eating are:

  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry

  • Rapid eating

  • Eating until uncomfortably full

  • Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten

  • Hiding of food because the person feels embarrassed about how much he or she is eating

  • Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt with overeating

This disorder is different from bulimia because people with binge eating disorder usually do not purge afterward by vomiting or using laxatives.


While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge.


People who binge disparage their bodies and feel self-conscious about their body size and/or shape.  However, not everyone who has binge eating disorder is overweight.  Although body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity, most people with binge eating disorder are obese (more than 20 percent above a healthy body weight).


Up to half of all people with binge eating disorder have a history of depression. Whether depression is a cause or effect of binge eating disorder is unclear.


Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety or other negative emotions can trigger a binge episode.


Impulsive behavior and certain other psychological problems (such as obsessive-compulsive behavior, substance abuse, and personality disorders) may be more common in people with binge eating disorder.


Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet, lack of exercise, and bingeing is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year. The annual cost to society for obesity is estimated at nearly $100 billion.


Eating Disorders is a Serious Mental Health Issue


Recognition of eating disorders as real and treatable diseases is critically important.  The consequences of eating disorders can be severe.  For example, one in ten cases of anorexia nervosa leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, other medical complications, or suicide.


Without treatment, up to twenty percent (20%) of people with serious eating disorders die. However, early identification and treatment leads to more favorable outcomes.  With treatment, the mortality rate falls to two to three percent (2-3%).


Getting Help


Parents who notice symptoms of an eating disorder in their teenagers should ask their family physician or pediatrician for a referral to a child and adolescent mental health professional.


With comprehensive treatment, most teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms or helped to control eating disorders.  Mental health professionals that specialize in working with children and adolescents are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat these psychiatric disorders.  Eating disorders frequently co-occur with depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders, and  it is important to recognize and get appropriate treatment for these problems as well.


Treatment for eating disorders usually requires a team approach; including individual therapy, family therapy, working with a primary care physician, and working with a nutritionist.


Treatment usually begins in an outpatient setting, but residential treatment may be necessary if symptoms are severe.


Hospitalization may be necessary if there is:

  • significant weight loss

  • low blood pressure

  • cardiac dysfunctions

  • fluid retention

  • dehydration

  • electrolyte disturbances

  • inability to function at home, school, and the community

  • severe depression

  • thoughts of suicide

If the hospital is not exclusive to the treatment of eating disorders, the individual should then be transferred to an residential treatment center specializing in eating disorders that addresses underlying psychological issues and provides a safe, secure, loving, and supportive environment.



Information from the National Eating Disorders Association, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.


Help and Support


About-Face ~ Grassroots organization that educates about body image and body acceptance.


Academy for Eating Disorders ~ Multidisciplinary professional organization focusing on Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and related disorders.


Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness ~ Programs and information for those affected by eating disorders.


BEAT - Beating Eating Disorders ~ Based in the UK, BEAT provides information, help and support for people affected by eating disorders and, in particular, anorexia and bulimia nervosa.


Eating Disorders Anonymous ~ 12-step support and fellowship where recovery means living without obsessing on food, weight and body image.


The Elisa Project ~ This organization provides individuals and their loved ones with education and support and works to increase community awareness of the disease, promote recognition of the warning signs, encourage those battling an eating disorder to seek treatment and provide objective information to families regarding the availability of appropriate professional services.


Food Addicts Anonymous ~ 12-step support and fellowship that  is based on the belief that food addiction is a bio-chemical disease.  By following a food plan devoid of all addictive substances, food addicts can recover. These substances include sugar, flour, and wheat in all their forms. They also include fats and any other high-carbohydrate, refined, processed foods that cause us problems individually.


F.R.E.E.D. Foundation ~ The Gail R. Schoenbach Foundation for Recovery and Elimination of Eating Disorders provides individuals the financial support needed for the treatment of eating disorders.


National Eating Disorder Information Centre ~ Canadian organization that provides information and resources on eating disorders and weight preoccupation.


National Eating Disorders Association ~ Education, prevention awareness, and support to those suffering from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder and those concerned with body image and weight issues.


Overeaters Anonymous ~ 12-step recovery program from compulsive overeating.


Pale Reflections ~ Online community for everyone affected by eating disorders.  You will find lots of information here on anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder (compulsive overeating), depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and much more.


Something Fishy ~ Excellent site on eating disorders, including online support.


More Information on Eating Disorders


Anorexia bone damage 'irreversible' ~ Almost all young women with anorexia have significant bone loss which is not helped by conventional treatment.


Anorexia websites 'glamorise thinness" ~ Anorexics are using websites to encourage each other to lose even more weight.


Approaching Someone ~ This page has a list of some things to keep in mind when approaching someone you think has an eating disorder.


Disordered eating less common among teen girls who regularly eat family meals ~ Teen girls who ate five or more meals with their families each week were significantly less likely to use extreme measures to control their weight.


Eating Disorder Early Recovery: "How Do I Begin?" The 84,000 Ways ~ The main theme or guiding principle necessary for recovery is, "Get well no matter what."  That's the commitment and focus it takes to recover from an eating disorder.


Eating Disorders in a Disordered Culture ~ Art exhibit with stories, information, and helping resources.


Eating Disorders: Psychotherapy's Role in Effective Treatment (pdf) ~ This question-and-answer fact sheet explains how psychotherapy can help people recover from these increasingly common disorders.


Family Therapy for Anorexia Twice As Effective As Individual Therapy ~ Family-based therapy, in which parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa are enlisted to interrupt their children's disordered behaviors, is twice as effective as individual psychotherapy at producing full remission of the disease.


First Large-Scale Analysis of Pro-Eating Disorder Web Sites ~ Web sites that promote anorexia and bulimia offer interactive communities where site users can encourage one another in unhealthy eating behaviors, yet the majority of these sites also recognize eating disorders as a disease.


How To Afford Appropriate Treatment for an Eating Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Their Families (pdf) ~ Eating disorders can lead to significant physiological changes that require medical treatment in addition to psychiatric treatment and the reimbursement system does not allow for a holistic approach.  For this reason, patients and families frequently have to fight to get the appropriate and necessary treatment.  This is an excellent resource.


Natural Treatment of Anorexia and Bulimia ~ How vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to eating disorders.


Poor indoor lighting may encourage binge-eating, study finds ~ Dieters were more apt to show binge-eating behavior if they preferred to eat in subdued light -- either at night or in a darkened room -- compared to dieters who had no preference for eating in darker surroundings.


Prevalence of Eating Disorders Among Adolescents Studied ~ Eating disorders are prevalent in the general U.S. adolescent population and are associated with other psychiatric disorders, role impairment, and suicidality.


Self-esteem that's based on external sources has mental health consequences, study says ~ College students who based their self-worth on external sources -- including appearance, approval from others and even their academic performance -- reported more stress, anger, academic problems, relationship conflicts, and had higher levels of drug use and alcohol use and symptoms of eating disorders.


Self-Injury Behavior Not Recognized in Many Youths with Eating Disorders ~ An alarming number of adolescents already battling eating disorders are also intentionally cutting themselves, and health-care providers may be failing to diagnose many instances of such self-injury.


Severity of Binge Eating Disorder Linked to Childhood Sexual or Emotional Abuse ~ The severity of the condition -- reflected by greater body dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms -- appears to be linked to very specific histories of childhood sexual abuse or emotional abuse, which in turn lead to self-criticism.


© Focus Adolescent Services