Often masked as a health-kick a new form of the eating disorder, anorexia, is manifesting itself in teenagers.
When John and Julie Armstrong’s 12-year-old son, Jed, told them that he wanted to get fit in the summer of 2014, neither thought anything of it. A keen footballer, Jed designed a regime of exercise for himself – sit-ups, push-ups, and squats – and started to watch what he ate.
“I kind of thought that I was a bit overweight,” Jed, now 13, recalls. There was no particular trigger for wanting to do something about it, he says no bullying or teasing: “One day I just started thinking of it.”
What happens with young people is that they take on these messages [of health and fitness] to an absolute extreme.
Susan Sawyer, Adolescent health director, Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital
But somewhere along the line, he started to think of little else, and his health kick became distinctly unhealthy. In his mind, he wanted to take his short, 50 kilogram frame down to 35 kilograms. He eventually got to 36 kilograms.
By April, John and Julie were starting to worry. Julie had had anorexia and bulimia in her late teens, and knew the signs. She watched Jed starting to exercise in his room with the door closed, and noticed that he was eating much less. He was changing too. His mood became lower and he wanted to wear thick clothes all the time because he was cold.
They spoke to a counsellor at Jed’s school, who suggested he see the school psychologist. She in turn recommended an outside psychologist, and it was there they heard the word they were starting to fear: anorexia.
In the last week of term two, Jed emailed the school psychologist to tell her he felt sick and couldn’t concentrate. Soon after, with his heart rate just 44 and his blood pressure dangerously low, the family rushed Jed from their Melbourne home to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with atypical anorexia and admitted for two weeks.
Point of difference
The “atypical” part of the diagnosis is a relatively new phenomenon. The sufferers are atypical because they have all the symptoms and signs associated with anorexia nervosa, but they are not underweight at the time of diagnosis. In fact, many are overweight or even obese before they start losing weight and some remain so on admission.
– Amanda Dunn, Columnist, The Age.
Dr Susan Sawyer will be speaking on disordered eating and promoting health body image in Melbourne, including a special talk on holistic approaches for schools in our Leadership Program. Talks on disordered eating will also be featured in Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and the Gold Coast.