“It’s so strange,” said one mother. “Melissa turned into a vegetarian overnight. Now she won’t eat any of the foods she always loved.”

A father remarked: “Lisa seems to live at McDonald’s. All that junk can’t be good for her-can it?”

“Cookies! I think that girl exists on Oreos! What should I do?”

“I swear, she starts a different diet every week.”

“She eats nothing all day, and then gets ravenous just before bedtime. Is this just a teenage phase? Or should I worry?”

“I can’t understand it. Every day she eats exactly the same thing. The same foods, in the same order, every meal. Even breakfast. Is something wrong?”

Adolescence: Spell it T-U-R-M-O-I-L. Hormones surge. Emotions run amok. Bodies change so fast that their owners don’t recognize themselves in the mirror.

The physical transformation alone is hard enough to handle. But a teen’s whole world is in upheaval. Socially speaking, the pressure’s on. Suddenly a person whose age has barely reached double digits has to cope with enormous changes and choices. Sexuality. Dating. Demanding teachers. Those twin temptations, drugs and alcohol. New roles and responsibilities.

Some of this confusion and fear is bound to rub off onto the parents. They watch their sweet, obedient child transmute into an anxious, volatile creature from another world.

Everything in the kid’s life is changing, and eating patterns are no exception. Unusual diets, strange menus, or just plain bad food habits do not always mean that an eating disorder has struck. Switching to vegetarianism or an occasional food binge represents nothing unusual.

Sometimes, though, there is cause for concern. Those habits may not be a phase, but a sign that something is wrong. The body could be changing so fast that it can’t keep up with itself. Emotions may spin out of control. The pressure gets to be too much. For a lot of people, eating-or the discipline of not eating-provides relief, comfort, or just plain distraction.

You may think (or know) that something is wrong with the way your child is eating. Or you may be worried about a close friend or relative-or yourself. You may have witnessed bizarre behavior-for example, wolfing down a dozen bananas or six hot dogs in a row-that makes you suspicious. Maybe your daughter takes forever at the dinner table, picking at her food, eating nothing. Or she disappears into the bathroom two or three times during a meal. Or perhaps another person’s casual remark-“Barbara’s losing an awful lot of weight, isn’t she?”-sets off an alarm in your head.

When does a “diet” become a disorder? What exactly are eating disorders, anyway? Why do they strike, and how do they affect the people who have them? This chapter will help you find out. To start, look over this list of warning signs that indicate something is wrong.

The warning signs of eating disorders

Severe weight loss

Preoccupation with being thin and /or an intense fear of being overweight

Severe diets or odd behaviors about food

Signs and symptoms of depression

Loss of menstrual periods

Hyperactivity, compulsive exercising

Distorted body image

Unexplained medical problems

Hair loss

Slow pulse (bradycardia)

Intolerance to cold (shivering, blueness of the skin and fingers, etc.)

Edema (swelling of the ankles)

Low blood pressure

Low body temperature (hypothermia)

Dental damage (due to vomiting)

Weakness

Sleep disturbance

*8/35/5*

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