Bulimia Nervosa in Children

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder. It’s also called bulimia. A child with bulimia
overeats or binges uncontrollably. This overeating may be followed by self-induced
throwing up (purging).

A child who binges eats much larger
amounts of food than would normally be eaten in a short period of time (often less
than
2 hours). The binges happen at least twice a week for 3 months. They may happen as
often
as several times a day.

Bulimia has two types:

  • Purging type. A child with this type
    regularly binges and then causes himself or herself to throw up. Or the child may
    misuse laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medicines that clear the bowels.
  • Nonpurging type. Instead of purging after binging, a child with this type uses other inappropriate
    behaviors to control weight. He or she may fast or exercise too much.

Researchers don’t know what causes bulimia. Some things that may lead to it are:

  • Cultural ideals and social attitudes about body appearance
  • Self-evaluation based on body weight and shape
  • Family problems

Most children with bulimia are
girls in their teens. They tend to be from a high socioeconomic group. They may have
other mental health problems, such as anxiety or mood disorders.

Children with bulimia are more likely to come from families with a history of:

  • Eating disorders
  • Physical illness
  • Other mental health problems, such as mood disorders or substance abuse

Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common symptoms of bulimia are:

  • Often has a normal or low body weight
    but sees him or herself as weighing too much
  • Repeated episodes of binge eating,
    often in secret
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating
    while bingeing
  • Self-induced throwing up, often in
    secret
  • Extremely excessive exercise
  • Excessive fasting
  • Strange eating habits or rituals
  • Misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or
    other medicines to clear the bowels
  • In girls, irregular periods, or no
    period at all
  • Severe anxiety
  • Discouragement because he or she is
    not satisfied with his or her appearance
  • Depression
  • Obsession with food, weight, and body
    shape
  • Scarring on the back of the fingers
    from self-induced throwing up
  • Overachieving behaviors

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa may look like other health problems. Make your child
sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Parents, teachers, and coaches may
be able to spot a child with bulimia. But many children with it first keep their illness
hidden. If you notice symptoms of bulimia in your child, you can help by getting a
diagnosis and treatment early. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.

A child psychiatrist or a mental
health expert can diagnose bulimia. They will talk with you, your partner, and teachers
about your child’s behavior. Your child may need psychological testing.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment often includes a mix of
the following:

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Behavior changes
  • Nutritional rehabilitation
  • Medicine for depression or anxiety, if needed

Bulimia can lead to malnutrition. It can harm nearly every organ system in the body.
That’s why early diagnosis and treatment is important. Some health problems it may
cause are:

  • Damage to the throat, stomach, and bowels
  • Dehydration
  • Tooth decay

Health complications may happen during treatment. Because of this, both your child’s
healthcare provider and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) must be part of
the care team. You as a parent play a vital role in treatment.

Experts don’t know how to prevent bulimia. But early detection and treatment can lessen
symptoms. They can also help your child’s normal development. It can also improve
his or her quality of life. Encouraging your child to have healthy eating habits and
realistic attitudes toward weight and diet may also help.

Here are things you can do to help your child:

  • Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider.
  • Talk with your child’s healthcare
    provider about other providers who will be involved in your child’s care. Your child
    may get care from a team that may include counselors, therapists, social workers,
    psychologists, psychiatrists, and RDNs. Your child’s care team will depend on your
    child’s needs and how serious the bulimia is.
  • Tell others about your child’s
    bulimia. Work with your child’s healthcare provider and schools to create a treatment
    plan.
  • Reach out for support from local community services. Being in touch with other parents
    who have a child with bulimia may be helpful.

Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
  • New symptoms
  • Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder.
  • A child with this eating problem overeats or binges uncontrollably. He or she may
    also engage in other activities to control weight. He or she may cause himself or
    herself to throw up or exercise too much.
  • Social attitudes toward body appearance and family problems may lead to bulimia.
  • A mental health expert can diagnose this eating problem.
  • A child may need therapy and nutritional rehab.

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
    or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
    Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
    for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
    if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.