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Eating Disorders in Young Girls & Its Dangers

Young girls – children and teenagers – who suffer from serious alterations in eating habits, may develop major health problems. Eating disorders generally begin during adolescence or early adulthood, but may even start in childhood. Young girls are especially more vulnerable to the following three types of eating disorders, though some may alternate between disorders over phases:

  1. Anorexia: A child or teen refuses to eat proper meals, out of an irrational fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  2. Bulimia: A child binges (grossly overeats) and then purges the food through vomiting to prevent gaining weight.
  3. Binge Eating: A child gorges on food rapidly, but does not purge later.

Causes of Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

It is believed that eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating result from a combination of biological, social and behavioural factors. Young girls may be dealing with issues like:

  1. Fear of Becoming Overweight
  2. Low Self-Esteem
  3. Feeling of Helplessness

Harmful eating habits become a refuge for children and teens to cope with such issues. For example, many people feel uncomfortable in their weight. A high value on body image stressed through society can easily impact young girls with a wrong message of how bodies must look, causing some to resort to wrong methods like these disorders to lose weight. In fact, eating disorders most often occur simultaneously with psychological problems such as:

  1. Depression
  2. Substance Abuse
  3. Anxiety Disorders

Let’s take a look at the three eating disorders affecting young girls in more detail.

Anorexia

Young girls with anorexia have a misleading body image, considering themselves ‘fat’ when they might actually be skinny. It causes them to obsess over being thin, resulting in body weight that falls below normal.

Anorexia can be detected through the following symptoms:

  1. Anxiety, depression
  2. Overtly self-critical, trying to be a perfectionist in other areas of life
  3. Excessive exercising
  4. Abnormal eating habits (avoiding meals, eating in secret, being conscious of every bite)
  5. Irregular menstrual cycle or stop page of periods
  6. Rapid weight loss, often concealed by the person in loose clothing

Treatment

The first line of treatment for anorexia involves regaining normal body weight of the young adult. It may require hospitalisation and tube or intravenous feeding.

Over time, the psychological issues causing the disorder are addressed through the following:

  1. Antidepressant medication
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Behavioural therapy
  4. Participation in support groups

Bulimia

Like in a case of anorexia, children and young teens suffering from bulimia are also unhappy with their bodies and fear weight gain. However, bulimic young adults often lose a sense of control over what they eat – they overeat repeatedly in a short span of time only to realise they have overeaten.

A sense of shame and disgust generally overtakes them, and the bulimic person tries to prevent weight gain from bingeing by using laxatives, diet pills, enemas or diuretics or may try inducing vomiting. A sense of relief is felt after purging food.

Bulimia is confirmed in a person after two or more such episodes have occurred in a week over a three-month period. Unlike anorexia, a bulimic young girl may be overweight, though weight usually fluctuates within a normal weight range.

Bulimia can be identified through the following symptoms:

  1. Bingeing on large amounts of food
  2. Unusual eating habits, like eating in secret
  3. Anxiety
  4. Abuse of drugs or alcohol; laxatives and other treatments to avoid weight gain
  5. Excessive worry over physical appearance
  6. Excessive exercise
  7. Spending long periods in the bathroom after eating
  8. Mood swings
  9. Marks or scarring on knuckles caused from fingers used in inducing vomiting

Treatment

Treating bulimia involves breaking the binge-and-purge cycle.

The patient undergoes the following:

  1. Antidepressant medication
  2. Nutrition counselling
  3. Behaviour modification therapy
  4. Individual, family or group therapy

Binge Eating

Binge eating is quite similar to bulimia but does not involve purging after eating. Children and teens affected by binge eating show a chronic, out-of-control habit of eating a large amount of food in a short time, to the point of it causing discomfort. Since there is no purging, binge eaters tend to become overweight or obese.

Binge eating is a form of emotional eating and results when a young person is unable to handle his/her emotions. Triggers of binge eating include emotions like worry, anger, stress, sadness or boredom. Depression often results after a session of overeating.

Treatment

Treatment includes:

  1. Antidepressant medication
  2. Behavioural therapy

Dangers of Eating Disorders

Young girls in their pre-adolescent or teenage years require balanced food to support their body’s growing needs. Eating disorders at this early stage can lead to serious health issues, and even death in extreme cases. What makes it more difficult is that these disorders are not always overcome by willpower. Medical treatment and therapy is needed to restore correct eating habits and normal weight.

Dangers of Anorexia:

  1. Damage to major organs like brain, heart, kidneys
  2. Low blood pressure, body temperature
  3. Irregular heartbeat
  4. Sensitivity to cold
  5. Thinning of bones
  6. Death

Dangers of Bulimia:

Chronic vomiting may cause stomach acids to

  1. Damaged Tooth Enamel
  2. Inflame Salivary Glands and oesophagus
  3. Lower blood level of potassium, which can lead to irregular heart rhythms

Dangers of Binge Eating:

Excess weight that results from binge eating puts a child or teen at risk of the following health problems –

  1. High Blood Pressure
  2. High Cholesterol Levels
  3. Heart Disease
  4. Type 2 Diabetes
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