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Due to the high demand on sports performance these days, it is possible to see a young athlete struggle with an eating disorder. Young people often work hard to keep their struggles with food secret, so it’s hard to know just how many people suffer from eating disorders. Between 1 to 13 percent of American high school and college-age women are estimated to suffer from these illnesses.
Eating disorders often begin with dissatisfaction in appearance and efforts to “eat healthier” or exercise more. But for some people, these behaviors can lead to changes in thought patterns and behaviors that develop into an eating disorder. The thoughts and behaviors become difficult to resist, and emotional and physical health begin to deteriorate.
The problem often begins with active efforts to lose weight, such as a weight-loss diet, or increasing exercise, but then something goes wrong. Once 5 pounds have been lost, the weight goal is lowered another 5 or 10 pounds. Or perhaps the original goal is never quite reached, and instead the teenager’s weight goes up and down in a seesaw pattern. Eventually, the pursuit of thinness becomes an obsession that assumes more importance than anything else in the person’s life.
Young people go to great lengths to deny and conceal their painful struggles with food. Here are some signs that may help you recognize an eating disorder in your child:
Remember that no one is to blame when a child develops an eating disorder. Discuss your concerns openly, and then seek professional help. The pediatrician or primary care provider is where most families start when they become concerned.
For more information on how you can help someone who has an eating disorder, watch these helpful tips:
Written by: Jennifer Hagman, M.D., Medical Director of the Eating Disorders Program, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To learn more about Children’s Colorado’s Eating Disorder Program, the Rocky Mountain region’s most comprehensive center for evaluation and treatment of eating disorders in children, adolescents and young adults through age 21, please visit our Eating Disorder Program website.