Eating Disorders Program
Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions in which abnormal eating patterns are developed and maintained in an attempt to cope with emotional problems. Each year at least 8 million Americans – including teen girls and boys, and women and men – are affected by eating disorders. The most prevalent types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
The Eating Disorders Program at Nicklaus Children's Hospital brings together the expertise of a full spectrum of specialists to offer multidisciplinary care and treatment for individuals suffering from eating disorders. Together, the Eating Disorders Program staff is making a difference in the lives of families striving to help children or teens overcome these destructive behaviors.
Eating Disorder Symptoms
The following may be symptoms of an eating disorder:
- Excessive weight loss or concern about weight
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, and dieting
- Dissatisfaction with body
- Ritualistic or obsessive eating behavior, food rituals
(i.e. cutting food into extremely small bites, excessive chewing)
- Bouts of gorging with large quantities of food
- Frequent comments about feeling “fat” despite weight loss
- Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”
- Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food
- Disappearance of large quantities of food in short periods of time
- Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Use of diuretics (pills to promote water loss) or laxatives
- Refusing to eat in public
- Excessive exercising, the need to burn off calories taken in
- Irregularity or cessation in menstrual periods
- Low heart rate or blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
About Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is a life-threatening disease in which the affected person intentionally deprives him or herself of food. Anorexics may maintain body weights that are 15 percent or more below their ideal. Even when emaciated, those affected often have so distorted a body image that they continue to perceive themselves as “fat.”
About Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is a type of eating disorder in which the affected person experiences episodes of uncontrollable overeating (binge eating). Individuals with this type of eating disorder may be harder to identify. They can appear to be of normal weight, but routinely eat excessive amounts of food over a short period of time and immediately “purge” themselves of the food by vomiting or taking laxatives. They usually become experts at concealing this behavior from others.
Consequences of Eating Disorders
If left untreated, both anorexia and bulimia can have devastating consequences. Anorexics literally starve themselves, often leading to permanent damage to the bones, heart and brain, even death. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of those with anorexia die within 10 years of contracting this disorder. Individuals with bulimia often suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, heart damage, kidney damage, and injury to the digestive system and teeth. The disorder may also lead to chemical imbalances and dehydration that can result in death.
Eating Disorder Treatment
To minimize eating disorder-related damage to health, early intervention is important. The longer behaviors are maintained, the more ingrained they become. Because eating disorders affect the physical, mental and emotional health of victims, multidisciplinary action is the most effective approach.
The Eating Disorders Program brings together a team of specialists to evaluate the child physically and emotionally and create an individualized eating disorder treatment plan.
The team includes:
While some children and adolescents can receive treatment on an outpatient basis, others may require hospitalization at Nicklaus Children's. During the stay, the child’s health is continuously monitored and first steps are taken to alter behaviors. In addition to medical stabilization, therapy is begun to help the adolescents and their families learn how to deal effectively with the disorder and its underlying issues. Once the child has left the hospital, medical and psychiatric care along with individual, family and group therapies are available to support the child’s continued recovery.