Anorexia Nervosa in Children
Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is an eating disorder that is recognized as the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. It is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a severe mental health illness that is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. Anorexia is characterized by “an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight.” Children and teens with this health problem have a distorted body image and believe that they weigh too much. This false belief leads them to severely restrict the amount of food they eat and leads to other behavior that stops them from gaining weight. While the exact cause behind why a child develops anorexia remains unknown, research has found that it is likely due to a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Though anorexia can manifest at any age, data suggests it most commonly develops during adolescence.
Signs and Symptoms
A child struggling with anorexia may exhibit behavioral warning signs such as skipping meals, over-exercising, obsessively reading nutritional information, constantly weighing themselves, regularly making excuses not to eat, denial of a problem despite excessive weight loss, etc. Common symptoms that can manifest as a result of anorexia could include any combination of the following examples, provided by the Mayo Clinic:
- Thin appearance
- Extreme weight loss
- Not making expected developmental weight gains
- Dizziness and/ or fainting
- Abnormal blood counts
- Thinning, brittle hair
- Absence of menstruation
- Dry and/ or yellowish skin
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Low blood pressure
- Excessively exercising
Children that struggle with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. When a child with anorexia becomes severely malnourished, every organ in his or her body can suffer irreparable damage, and without proper treatment, anorexia can lead to life-threatening consequences. There are a variety of treatment options available for young people struggling with anorexia. The goal of treatment for children with anorexia is to help them find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, in the long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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