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Eating For Order


by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

food_kirk
Her parent remarks as she is leaving the house, “You’re not going to wear that outfit if you want to leave this house!” She pleads that this is what she wants to wear, but her parent is adamant about her wardrobe choice. “Change that skirt. You can’t really wear that type outfit anyway. I think it makes you look too big. You need something with a little more room, dear, to hide that tummy of yours.” The daughter, with hurt feelings, makes the wardrobe change, but misses out on feeling good about her own choices. She “feels” inadequate, always seeming to be told what to do by her parents, never being allowed to make her own choice. She chooses the one thing it seems she has solo control over: her food intake. She learned from other adolescents to eat and then vomit her meal; it makes her feel in control and she loses weight, a perfect solution to her problem of being overweight and teased by her parent.

Adolescents with eating disorders take such concerns as weight worries to extremes, developing abnormal eating habits that threaten one’s well being and even one’s life.

There are three core types of eating disorders:

QAdolescents with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image, seeing oneself as overweight, even when perilously thin. Refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, they lose large amounts of weight and may starve to death.

QAdolescents with bulimia nervosa eat unwarranted quantities then purge their bodies of the food and calories they fear by using laxatives, enemas, vomiting, or exercising. Frequently acting in secrecy, these adolescents feel disgusted and ashamed of themselves as they binge, yet experience relief of tension and negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again.

QAdolescents with binge-eating disorders experience recurrent episodes of seemingly out-of-control eating. However, they do not purge their bodies of food.

Adolescents may have eating disorders without their families or friends ever suspecting that they have a problem. Adolescents with eating disorders may withdraw from social contact, hide their behavior, and deny that their eating patterns are problematic. Many adolescents with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look.

A wide range of situations can precipitate eating disorders in vulnerable individuals. Family members or friends may repeatedly tease adolescents about their bodies. Negative emotions or traumas such as rape, abuse (verbal and physical) can also trigger disorders. Even an event such as giving birth can lead to disorders, because of the stressful impact of the event on the mother’s new role and body image.

Eating disorders often go untreated.  Less than 13 percent of adolescents with eating disorders receive treatment. Eating disorders can devastate the body and emotions. Physical problems associated with anorexia, for instance, include anemia, constipation, osteoporosis, even damage to the heart and brain. Bulimia can result in a sore throat, worn-away tooth enamel, acid reflux, and heart attacks.

Adolescents with binge-eating disorder may develop high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other problems associated with obesity. Adolescents with eating disorders suffer higher rates of other mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.

In treatment, adolescents explore the psychological issues of the eating disorder by resolving interpersonal issues and misunderstandings related to the eating disorder. This may involve helping adolescents understand an event that triggered the disorder.  Parents are frequently involved in treatment. Eating disorders can severely impair an adolescent’s functioning and Health, yet the prospects for long-term recovery are good for most adolescents who seek professional assistance.  This can assist the adolescent in becoming more independent and self-assured.

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