Cincinnati Children's Blog

Eating disorders: the impact, the signs

Last week marked National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and while we recognize the tardiness of this blog post, we didn’t want to completely miss an excellent opportunity to give due recognition to this group of conditions, the life-altering impact they have on families and the experts that are dedicated to helping people who suffer with these disorders.

So now, an introduction: meet Stacy and Kacy Cluxton. This is their story, in their words.

Dr. Laurie Mitan, the director of the eating disorders program at Cincinnati Children’s, participated in a radio interview last week in which she discussed the importance of early intervention and noted that “accessing an evaluation and treatment is easy; you can go to a primary-care physician for an evaluation or a school or community health agency.”

Through a recently-forged partnership, Cincinnati Children’s and the Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio, are offering specialized treatment to adolescents and teens struggling with eating disorders and a variety of other mental health disorders. A 16-bed inpatient unit is part of a wide range of treatment options that combines psychotherapy, nutritional services, psychiatric management and family support.

“Not only are eating disorders an increasing public health concern, but they represent the highest rate of mortality compared with other mental illnesses,” said Dr.  Anne Marie O’Melia, medical director of eating disorders at the Lindner Center of HOPE. “In addition, these illnesses such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, compulsive exercising and binge eating disorder are challenging to identify and treat.”

Long-term consequences of eating disorders can be dangerous and even fatal, including bone thinning, heart damage, brain damage and organ failure. Other symptoms include dry, yellowish skin, brittle hair and nails, low blood pressure, slow breathing and pulse, infertility, sluggishness and a drop in internal body temperature.

But research shows eating disorders can be effectively treated in psychiatric, inpatient and partial hospital programs, and success rates are especially high when treatment also addresses other mental health diagnoses, such as depression or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

People with eating disorders are skilled at hiding their unhealthy behavior, but there are warning signs, including:

  • Relentless pursuit of weight loss
  • Extreme restrictions in eating habits, such as eliminating certain foods
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Lack of menstruation in women and girls
  • Distorted body image and self-esteem that’s based solely on weight
  • Extreme thinness
  • Inflamed sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck and jaw
  • Worn tooth enamel and tooth decay as a result of repeated vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Compulsive eating, binge eating or the inability to stop eating
  • Compulsively arranging food or cutting it into tiny pieces
  • Abusing laxatives or diet pills
  • Excessive exercising
  • Avoiding eating in social situations that involve food
  • Frequently going to the restroom shortly after meals

In the Ohio News Connection piece, Dr. Mitan went on to say, adolescence is the common age of onset for anorexia, and the young-adult years bring the most cases of bulimia.

When looking for warning signs in a friend or loved one, she says, first and foremost pay attention to what they say about themselves. “Distaste about their own body shape. Lots of negative comments out of their mouth about (how) they’re fat, they’re ugly, they’re worthless. These are red flags that we would want people to bring to attention.”

The Cluxton sisters received the right treatment when they needed it and have put their disorders behind them, but many adolescents and young adults aren’t as lucky. If someone you love, young woman or young man, is exhibiting behaviors listed above, please don’t hesitate to seek help.

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