"I almost died," Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi told The Insider earlier this year. "In high school, I really wouldn't eat. I would only have lunch, and I would only have salads. It got so crazy that I would only eat a cracker or a cucumber a day and I would feel full. I would go into the nurse's office every day and I would weigh myself. When [the school nurse] realized that I hit 80 pounds, she was like, 'This isn't good.'"
The nurse notified Snooki's parents. "My parents told me, 'You need to eat; this is very dangerous,'" says Snooki. "So I gained my weight back to like 98, where I always was."
As many as 10 million females suffer from eating disorders in the U.S., and more than half of teenage girls use unhealthy weight-control behaviors, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Because of the secretiveness and shame associated with anorexia and bulimia, the conditions often go undetected and untreated.
The Top 5 Signs of Anorexia or Bulimia
1) Extreme food restriction. The teen undergoes a drastic change in her eating habits. For instance, she is only willing to accept really small portions -- and then pushes them around the plate instead of eating them.
2) Perception of 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. For example, a daughter who has lost a lot of weight is now wearing baggy clothing.
3) Disappearance of food from the 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, doing it several times a day, or to the point of complete exhaustion -- is another warning sign.
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.
Other Things to Watch Out For
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals.
- Increased discussion about needing to burn off calories.
- The use of laxatives or diet pills. (If you find any evidence of this, confront your child immediately.)
What Moms Can Do about Eating Disorders
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, parents can help prevent eating disorders from developing by practicing healthy body-image attitudes and having sensible eating habits for children to emulate. Educate yourself and your children about both the dangers associated with risky dieting and the importance of eating balanced meals consisting of a variety of foods. Encourage exercise, and do not avoid activities such as swimming because of insecurities about wearing a bathing suit. Instilling healthy self-esteem in a child may be one of the most effective ways to stop him or her from practicing dangerous body-changing behaviors.
If you suspect that your son or daughter may have an eating disorder, the Harris Center at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that you first meet with a referred therapist without your child to discuss how to best approach him/her. Once you talk to your son or daughter, express your love and tell him or her that you alone are concerned. This way, your child will not feel ganged up on by loved ones.
If the child becomes angry or denies having a problem, remain calm. Remind your child that a parent worries, and that you only want to help him/her receive the support he/she deserves. You may have to talk to your child several times before he or she agrees to get help -- even if the child knows that he/she is suffering from an eating disorder. Some children need space before discussing a treatment plan. Others feel more comfortable knowing their parents have already made arrangements for help. Work with a therapist experienced in eating disorders to help your child get the proper treatment.