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Painfully Thin Girls

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The warning signs that your teen may suffer from an eating disorder aren't always easy to spot.


We recently caught a Today show story about Alexandra Michael, a teen who left modeling because of the pressure from the fashion industry to stay thin. When she started out at 5 feet, 9 inches and 130 pounds, she was told her legs were fat--so she began to starve herself in order to lose nearly 30 pounds to keep up with the competition.

When clumps of her hair starting falling out and she stopped getting her period, Alexandra realized it was time to put an end to this dangerous fixation with her weight. She decided to speak out against the pressure placed on teen models who oftentimes battle bulimia and anorexia just so they can hold onto their careers. Alexandra's story is featured in this month's issue of Teen Vogue.

"Today we are seeing a really broad range of eating disordered behavior, including extreme dieting, over-exercise, and skipping meals. While not all teens reach the point of having an anorexia or bulimia diagnosis, millions of them do fall into those gray areas," says Claire Mysco, author of Girls Inc. Presents: You're Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self. "The bottom line is that if your child's thoughts about food and weight are preventing her from feeling good about herself and enjoying her life, that is enough of a sign to seek help from a professional."

We spoke with Dr. David B. Herzog, author of Unlocking the Mysteries of Eating Disorders, momlogic friend Counseling Mom, Roseanne Tobey, L.P.C., and Claire Mysco, who is also founder of Inside Beauty, for important warning signs that parents can look for in teens who may be suffering from bulimia or anorexia.

5 Top Signs of Anorexia or Bulimia:

1. Extreme food restriction: The teen has a drastic change in her eating habits.  For instance, she is only willing to accept really small portions and then pushing them around the plate instead of eating them.

2. Perceives her body or parts of her body as extremely large when that is not the case: This may result in a change in clothing style. A daughter who has lost a lot of weight and is now wearing baggy clothing.

3. Disappearance of food from refrigerator or pantry: Bingers usually binge in secret, so keep an eye out for pantries or fridges that have been emptied of their contents, as well as large amounts of empty food wrappers either in the garbage or stashed in some out of the way place.

4. Excessive, compulsive exercise: An obsession with exercising--for instance several times a day, or to the point of complete exhaustion. 

5. Extreme weight loss or marked fluctuations in weight: Dramatic weight loss can be a sign of anorexia, but it is important to remember that not all eating disorders result in weight loss. Many bulimics are normal weight and they can even be overweight. That doesn't make their eating disordered behavior any less dangerous. Watch out for frequent trips to the bathroom after meals and excessive exercise (specifically increased discussion about needing to burn off calories). If you find any evidence that your child has been abusing laxatives or diet pills, confront her immediately.

The earlier a patient is diagnosed and treated with an eating disorder, the more likely they will recover completely. However, according to Walden, one of the country's leading hospitals for treating eating disorders, prolonged bouts with bulimia and anorexia that go untreated can result in osteoporosis, retarded growth, kidney problems, ulcers and heart failure and even death.

For more information about teens and eating disorders visit the Harris Center for Eating Disorders or Walden Hospital.

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristyn June 2, 2008, 1:28 AM

Kudos to Alexandra for doing what she need to do to take care of herself and set an example for all those who are struggling with an eating disorder. I wish her well.

Anonymous June 25, 2008, 5:33 PM

it wasnt okay for her not to eat because of the stupid compitiondosen’t matter she matters she could die of starvation.wish her well.

Kay March 4, 2009, 1:07 PM

Ok I have to do this, for the sake of every Eating Disordered person out there and the people who love them. I have anorexia, and here are my tips for you.

A) DO NOT confront your child about being anorexic if they loose a few pounds or become interested of their weight. If you must discuss it do it in the least confrontational way possible. Confronting someone with an eating disorder will just make them hide it even further and they will slip further from your reach and possible help. Plus not everyone who goes on a diet or becomes weight-aware (especially before prom or another big even) has an ED.

B) Throw out your bathroom scale if you have one. This will help reduce any obsession with weight. If you don’t have a scale you go by how well your clothes fits, if they fit well you eat and feel better.

C) Schedule healthy family meals. If you seem to be on a health kick your child will want to eat healthier, that way if they don’t have an eating disorder, they are getting their way of loosing any unhealthy weight, and if they do, you will notice how much/little they eat and can bring it up alone to them very, very gently.

D)Go to the Pro-ana sites (google red bracelet anorexia, pro ana, thinspiration, etc.) and find out what girls are doing to hide their eating disorders. If you know what they know, its easier to uncover with less digging in their room and invading their privacy. If you break their trust, they will never tell you if something is wrong.

Do NOT assume there’s anything wrong. Lots of teens loose and gain weight as they grow, do more/less exercise, go through periods of sleeplessness due to finals, etc. it’s almost a normal part of growing up so have good reason to suspect otherwise before slapping them across the face with a word like Anorexic!

Good Luck, Blessed be.

sherazade October 2, 2009, 11:15 AM

hey all my name is sherazade im 14 and im not a mom but im feeling unhappy about my weight recently i look in the mirror and feel huge my mom says im thin but she is my mom im 50 kg i luv food but i dnt over eat and i dont under eat i eat normal but what should i do to feel good about my body.

acai berries May 7, 2010, 1:59 PM

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