At thirteen years old, bright, out-going Katie, had lost 20 pounds on her 100 pound frame. It was tough being in eighth grade, with all the “drama,” Katie remembers. Diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves limiting the amount of food a person eats,
Katie needed therapy to help her gain the weight back.
Sadly, two years later, she faced anorexia for the second time, after breaking up with her boyfriend of two and a half years. “I just kind of stopped eating,” she explains. “I didn’t have any appetite because I was so sad. But then it got to the point where being able to not eat felt good, because it felt like I had control over that part of my life.”
Control is the key to eating disorders, according to Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Cooper University Hospital. Eating disorders come from a combination of psychological issues, biological issues such as a genetic predisposition, and social issues. There is a lot of pressure on kids today academically, socially, and through the media. More than ever before, parents today are extremely involved in the decisions their children must make.
“Kids used to have a lot more freedom in the past, and sometimes, with this sort of authoritarian parenting style, I think lack of freedom sends a very loud message to kids, which is that they’re not capable of making their own decisions,” explains Dr. Feldman-Winter. “Very often, kids will try to find something that they can be in control of.”
Eating disorders have increased by about 50 percent in the last ten years, she points out. The most common eating disorder today is ED-NOS, eating disorders not otherwise specified. Young girls can become preoccupied with eating and dieting as early as pre-school, even though the behaviors may not show up until later. “This is difficult, because over time, the thought patterns become ingrained,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter. “We would like to identify these thought patterns as early as possible because that’s going to lead to a more likely, complete resolution of the disorder.”
Tomorrow I will talk more about eating disorders and the warning signs parents can watch out for.