Anorexia – early detection

Anorexia nervosa- early detection is the key to recovery!

Anorexia nervosa is serious mental health problem marked by extreme weight loss and an excessive fear of weight gain. In children and adolescents as well as extreme weight loss it can also be seen as a failure to make expected gains in weight and height. Although it only affects a small number of individuals it can have serious effects on physical health and serious psychological consequences. For some people it is a lifelong problem. What we understand from research is the longer it goes untreated the harder it is to get better from. Adolescence is the most likely time to develop anorexia nervosa. This illness is more commonly seen in girls but it appears it is becoming more frequent in boys. The negative consequences of eating disorders on physical health are much stronger in children and adolescents than in adults because the eating and exercise behaviours can disrupt normal physical development. The causes of Anorexia Nervosa are unknown or at the very least unclear. This is important to state because families often believe they are in some way to blame for their child becoming unwell.
The key to treating anorexia nervosa is catching it early.
We know that families are good at detecting the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa. If you are worried that your child may be developing an eating disorder, you should observe their behaviour for any warning signs. These warning signs can include
 Gradual changes in behaviour and appearance occurring over months or years
 Dieting behaviours ,e.g. fasting, counting calories

• A narrowing of food choices or changes in food preferences e.g. refusing to eat certain ‘fatty’ or ‘bad’ foods, cutting out whole food groups such as meat or dairy, or claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed
 Increasing absences from family meals
 Excessive exercise patterns which may include exercising when injured or in bad weather
 Gradual withdrawal from social activities, particularly involving eating or drinking
 Behaviours focused on food, e.g. preparing and cooking meals for others but not actually eating or increased interest in cookbooks, recipes and nutrition
 There may be an attempt to conceal noticeable weight loss or the evading of questions about eating and weight

If you suspect that a child or young person is developing an eating disorder seek professional help. The South Island has a specialist eating disorders service based in Christchurch at Princess Margaret Hospital. They provide specialist support to other mental health professionals based throughout the South Island about eating disorders. They offer a wide range of treatments for those aged 14 years of age upwards. For those aged up to 19 they offer a treatment called Maudsley Family Based therapy. This treatment is based on work from the Maudsley Hospital in London, The University of Chicago, and Stanford University which has demonstrated that families can be an important resource for younger patients suffering from anorexia when they are included in the therapeutic work. In this treatment families are empowered to take charge of the illness. This treatment has a success rate of around 70% for those young people who have had the illness for less than 3 years. If you have concerns about your family member contact your GP who can refer you onto the service.


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