Could your child be suffering from one of these disorders?

  • If eating disorders are treated, it's possible for a teen to fully recover both physically and emotionally.

    If eating disorders are treated, it's possible for a teen to fully recover both physically and emotionally.

  • Dr. Michele Zucker, adolescent medicine physician

    Dr. Michele Zucker, adolescent medicine physician

By Dr. Michele Zucker
Advocate Children’s Hospital
Posted2/8/2020 7:00 AM

At least 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. That's certainly an alarming statistic.

Signs may differ depending on the type of disorder. The most common restrictive eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Of the two, anorexia is more commonly diagnosed in teenagers. One of the first noticeable signs is weight loss, but others include the individual:


• Viewing themselves as overweight (even when dangerously underweight)

• Severely restricting food intake

• Repeatedly weighing in

• Excessively exercising

• Inducing vomiting or using laxatives

• Wearing baggy clothing to hide weight loss

• Experiencing a delay or halt in puberty (girls may lose menstruation)

People with bulimia could be anywhere from slightly underweight to overweight. They experience frequent, recurring episodes of bingeing, or eating large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. After, they try compensating through forced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, exercising excessively or a combination of these behaviors.

What does treatment look like?

Family-based treatment (FBT) is most effective for young people. It recognizes families, caregivers and siblings as the best treatment resource for the child's malnutrition and empowers families to take an active role in restoring the child's health and well-being. Phases of FBT are:

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• Phase 1: Families determine how to best help the child gain weight and eat normally.

• Phase 2: Weight restoration is completed and control over eating and exercising is transitioned back to the child under parental supervision.

• Phase 3: Child returns to age-appropriate tasks.

FBT may not be appropriate in some cases. Other treatments include patient-centered therapy, variations of cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy.

The good news: If eating disorders are treated quickly and a return to a healthy weight is accomplished, it's possible to fully recover both physically and emotionally.

But the longer someone goes without treatment, or the farther away from their healthy weight they remain, the greater chance they won't fully recover. Left untreated, eating disorders can lead to emotional difficulties, bone health problems, lifelong infertility and even death.


The earlier a family intervenes, the more likely the patient will make a full recovery.

Concerned about your child? Let them know. They may initially resist seeking help. Notify your primary care provider as soon as possible so they can evaluate the child's change in eating habits, activity and weight. They'll continue monitoring the child and refer to a specialist if beneficial.

Our multidisciplinary team includes physicians, psychologists and registered dietitians to help teens and families recover. We believe that, in partnership with the family and care providers, we can help teens recover from this difficult illness.

We also recommend these resources:

• (A global support and education community of and for parents of those with eating disorders)

• (The National Eating Disorders Association)

• "Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder" by Dr. James Lock and Daniel LeGrange, second edition

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Advocate Children's Hospital. Dr. Michele Zucker is an adolescent medicine physician with the Chicagoland Children's Health Alliance, a partnership between Advocate and NorthShore University HealthSystem.

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