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The information provided in this section is re-printed from WebMD.  To access more information about eating disorders in children, you can visit their website at www.webmd.com.  If you have questions about eating disorders in youth, or wish to make an appointment for your child to have a consultation, please contact the Fulton County Oak Hill Child, Adolescent & Family Center at (404) 612-4111.


Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are psychological disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior.  A teen with anorexia refuses to maintain a normal body weight.  Someone with bulimia has repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compulsive behaviors such as vomiting or the use of laxatives to remove the food.


According to the American Psychiatric Association, as many as one in every 100 females has anorexia nervosa.  Teens with anorexia fear gaining weight and are at least 15% below their ideal body weights.  They believe the main gauge of self-worth is their body image.  According to WebMD, experts believe that many American girls are bulimic and have kept the problem a secret.  Bulimia often starts in the late teens and early adulthood.  People with bulimia go through cycles of eating enormous amounts of foods followed by purging (by vomiting, laxative use, diuretics, or hours of aerobic exercise).

The warning signs of bulimia include:

  • Extreme preoccupation about being overweight
  • Strict dieting followed by high-calorie eating binges
  • Overeating when distressed
  • Feeling out of control
  • Disappearing after a meal
  • Depressive moods
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Frequent use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Excessive exercising
  • Irregular menstrual cycles


There is no one cause of an eating disorder.  Experts link eating disorders to a combination of factors, such as family relationships, psychological problems, and genetics.  The teen may have low self-esteem and be pre-occupied with having a thin body.

Sometimes, being part of a sport such as ballet, gymnastics, or running, where being lean is encouraged, is associated with eating disorders in teens.  In one study, researchers linked anorexia with an obsession with perfectionism - concern over mistakes, high personal standards, and parental expectations and criticism.


Symptoms of eating disorders may include the following:

  • A distorted body image
  • Skipping most meals
  • Unusual eating habits (such as eating thousands of calories at one meal or skipping meals)
  • Frequent weighing
  • Extreme weight change
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash or dry skin
  • Dental cavities
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Loss of hair or nail quality
  • Hyperactivity and high interest in exercise

Teens with eating disorders are often in denial that anything is wrong.  They may be moody, anxious, depressed.  They may withdraw from friends, and become overly sensitive to criticism.   The problem arises when parents are not aware of these symptoms because the teen keeps them hidden - just like the trauma, insecurities, depression, or low self-esteem that may help trigger the disorder.


According to WebMD, there is no easy treatment for eating disorders.  A combination of treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medication, is most likely to help teens overcome bulimia.  Cognitive behavioral therapy helps by identifying and replacing inaccurate thoughts to help change behavior and emotional state.  Because anorexia is an extremely serious problem, the treatment usually involves nutritional feeding, medical monitoring, and psychological treatment.


If left untreated, both eating disorders can lead to serious illness and even death.  Along with the lower body weight, girls with anorexia nervosa can lose their menstrual periods (amenorrhea).  The loss of periods is associated with osteopenia, early bone loss that can lead to painful fractures.

Both eating disorders are also linked to other serious health problems such as diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease.  Each of these health problems requires specific tests and treatment.



Although you may suspect that your child is exhibiting certain behaviors that may resemble an eating disorder, you should not try to perform a diagnosis on your child.  If you have concerns, please call the Fulton County Oak Hill Child, Adolescent & Family Center at (404) 612-4111.  Our licensed and experienced professionals will be happy to conduct an evaluation and provide assistance.   








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