AURORA, Colo. -- When you think of someone with eating disorders, you probably think of teenage girls, but body image issues can impact anyone of any age or gender.
The Inpatient Unit Eating Disorder Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado treats hundreds of boys and girls each year, some as young as six years old.
“It was third grade, the first time I ever threw up,” 13-year-old Zachary Morrow told Dayle Cedars. “My teacher thought for sure I was sick, like I needed to go home, but I felt something different. I felt a voice inside my head telling to throw up.”
Zach was in middle school before the problem was caught and his parents got him the help he needs.
“It was in 7th grade. I was hiding food and I was throwing up on purpose,” he said. “They knew those were eating disorder behaviors so they started taking me to therapy for it.”
“The eating disorder was a secret. It was something only I knew,” 18-year-old Cassie Forsound said. “The day of Thanksgiving, I was exercising in secret a lot and then I realized when it came to Thanksgiving dinner time, I put nothing on my plate. I just put a little few things on my plate just to smear it to make it look like I ate something, then I threw it away and I kind of realized that wasn’t normal.”
Dayle asked Cassie how much of a role social media, TV, magazines and peer pressure play in her eating disorder.
“It’s a really big part because you know in the media, there are always those weight loss commercials and dieting pills and all those things that you can do to lose weight, and things that are saying you should do this to have a perfect body and this will make a guy fall in love with you or vice versa,” she said.
Both Cassie and Zach are now working with Dr. Mindy Solomon at Children’s Hospital.
“I think none of those things by themselves can cause an eating disorder,” Dr. Solomon told Dayle. “There is no one thing that causes an eating disorder. To be quite honest, we still don’t know what causes an eating disorder.”
Still, Dr. Solomon says there are things parents and friends need to be on the lookout for when it comes to eating disorders:
- Changes in eating patterns
- Mood changes
- Withdrawal from social engagements
- Not wanting to participate with friends
Dr. Solomon says many of the warning signs are hard to spot because they are behaviors that are sanctioned and celebrated by society.
“I don't know a lot of parents personally who, if their 13 or 14-year-old came home and said 'I'm going to cut out sweets,' would be upset about that,” she said. “There's a healthy balance and it's hard to know when it becomes off balance and it slips into a zone of compulsion and anxiety driven out of 'I can't do this right now, I can't fix that.'”
Dr. Solomon says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. She says it is better to conjecture and be wrong than to not ask what’s going on. She says if you’re right, your child will feel validated and safe to share their concerns. She says if you’re wrong they’re going to correct you, but your questions will open-up a dialogue between you and your child.
“An eating disorder isn’t just not eating food,” Zach said. “It’s like exercising, throwing up on purpose, it’s like doing stuff that normal humans wouldn’t do.”
Zach says one of the hardest things is the flippant comments many people make when he tells them he has an eating disorder.
“I was texting my friend one night and I was like ‘I have an eating disorder’ then he told me, ‘So what, did you go like to treatment and eat 30 Big Macs?’ and it like broke my heart,” he remembered.
For Cassie, who is graduating from high school this year, the road to recovery has been long and is far from over.
“I’m still working on it,” she said. “I like to say it does get easier, it does at some point and I know that, but I’m not quite there yet. But I know you have to keep trying and that no matter what you can’t give up because the moment you give up the eating disorder will swoop back in and take control of you just like that.”
Children's Hospital Colorado will be hosting seminars on healthy body image at the Colorado Girls Elevated: Reach Your Peak expo in Aurora on Sunday, April 23. Follow the link for information on how to register for free tickets.