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My Child Has an Eating Disorder

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My Child Has an Eating Disorder

May 14, 2018

While there are no clear answers as to what causes eating disorders, they can cause serious and potentially dangerous health problems with your child. Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner discusses how your child’s physical and mental health can be impacted by an eating disorder and the best ways to get treatment.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: If your child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you will need to know how your child's health will be affected. I'll tell you what you need to know on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering The Healthy Kid's Zone, with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: No one is really sure what causes eating disorders, but they are very real problems and they show up usually when kids are between ages 13 to 17 years old. And this is when there's a lot of physical and emotional changes, not to mention academic and peer pressures. Athletes and dancers are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders as they try to maintain a certain weight.

Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses. They often go along with other problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use. Eating disorders can lead to the development of serious physical health problems. The body goes into starvation mode when someone has anorexia. This causes hair loss, periods may stop in girls, soft hair called lanugo can grow all over the skin (it's the same kind of soft hair that's seen on newborn babies), teens may have concentration problems, anemia, and brittle bones.

For a person with bulimia, the constant vomiting and lack of certain nutrients can cause damage to the stomach and kidneys. Tooth decay, especially on the molars, from recurrent exposure to stomach acids, can happen too. And so can swollen cheeks from the salivary glands permanently expanding from throwing up so often. They can have loss of periods in girls and loss of potassium, which can lead to heart problems and even death.

It's not only a teen's physical health that will be affected. It's their mental health as well. Kids that become so obsessed with their weight, monitoring their food intake and exercise, it's so hard to focus on anything else. They're in a constant state of stress about food and what their body looks like. They start withdrawing from friends and family, and their whole world starts to fall apart.

Eating disorders can be treated, but the process is long and hard. Counseling is a very important part of getting better. Doctors, mental health professionals, and dietitians will all be involved. The first step to recovery, though, is for a teen to reach out to someone they trust. If they're not ready to talk to a parent, they may reach out to a friend or a teacher. Remember that eating disorders are very common among teens, and support from those they trust most will be needed to help them survive.

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