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Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are devastating illnesses for both the victims as well as their families. More than seven million women suffer from eating disorders. These illnesses are most common among girls ages 12 to 25, but can occur in younger and older women, as well as in boys and men. Untreated, eating disorders can lead to serious life-long health problems and death. Since not all health care professionals are trained to treat eating disorders, ask your health care professional for a referral to a specialist if your teen exhibits any of these behaviors or symptoms:
Intense fear of weight gain even though underweight
Refusal to maintain an appropriate weight for height
Anxiety around mealtimes
Strange behavior around meals, including moving food around on the plate without eating it and hiding food
Unrealistic or distorted body image, such as feeling overweight when underweight
Missed menstrual periods
Withdrawing emotionally from people and avoiding social activities that involve food • Eating large amounts of food in one sitting (bingeing), then getting rid of it by vomiting or abusing laxatives (purging)
Disappearing into the bathroom after meals for protracted periods of time
Parents can do a lot to discourage unhealthy eating behaviors and encourage positive body images among their teens. Try these approaches:
Explain that it's healthy and normal to gain some weight and experience other physical changes during adolescence.
Don't criticize your teen's weight.
Talk about the idealized physical images of men and women portrayed by the media and how they're unrealistic for most people.
Explain why a growing body needs a balanced diet.
Model healthy attitudes about your own body.
Sources: American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders and the Harvard Eating Disorders Center
Resources: National Institute of Mental Health 6001 Executive Blvd, Rm 8184, MSC 9663 Bethesda, MD 20892-9663 1-800-421-4211 (toll-free) http://www.nimh.nih.gov Offers comprehensive information on mental health conditions for all age groups, as well as fact sheets and links to community and other resources.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Box 7 Highland Park, IL 60035 847-831-3438 http://www.anad.org Provides information about eating disorders, telephone support via a hotline and referrals to support groups and physicians nationwide.