Anorexia and Bulimia: an ever-present concern

The Montreal Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Centre sees between 80 and 100 patients suffering from eating disorders every year. Eating disorders occur mostly in girls during puberty. According to Statistics Canada, one to two percent of women between 13 and 40 suffer from anorexia and two to four percent suffer from bulimia.
What is worrying is that patients tend to be much younger now. “Anorexia manifests itself when puberty begins,” says Dr. Franziska Blatzer, department head of the centre. “In the last three or four years, we’ve been seeing that pre-pubescent girls are starting to have anorexic perceptions of their bodies. The disease has no age anymore! Young girls of eight or nine years old think they are fat,” says Dr. Baltzer.

According to Baltzer, society plays a big role in this trend. “Fashion magazines for young girls give the message that thin is sexy. There’s nothing more unsexy than skinniness!”

She deplores the new trend that hypersexualizes young girls and the cult of thinness that is so present in our society. As proof, many teen forums on the web have someone complaining about her weight or seeking tips to lose weight. There’s even a weight loss competition! The website of French magazine Filles Cool has in its “useful links” sites like Belle et mince, 123maigrir and the Montignac Clinic.

Parents have an important role to play in the physical and psychological development of their child. It’s important to have information on these disorders.

Anorexia and bulimia

Anorexia is characterized by an intense fear of putting on weight, an obsession with thinness and refusing to eat. Anorexia patients see themselves as fat and will do anything to avoid putting on weight. They will take necessary measures to avoid meals.

Patients suffering from bulimia eat substantial quantities of food, and then avoid putting on weight by induced throwing up, purging, fasting and intense exercise.

Frequently, these diseases come together with other psychological troubles such as depression, anxiety, obsession and low self-esteem.


Among factors that cause eating disorders, a specific genetic component has been identified as well a hereditary factor. Sometimes one of the parents has or has had an eating disorder of some kind.

A person who sets extreme discipline goals usually has personality traits such as perseverance, ambition, obsession and perfectionism.

Traumatic personal experiences such as aggression, moral or physical violence, sexual harassment or assault, break-ups or a very rigid and strict family context can also be factors.

Society and its cult of thinness is another factor. Magazines that feature the skinniest models, actresses, singers and fashion itself give the message that thin is beautiful.

It has been noted that some environments such as girls’ schools or the entertainment business, and sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving can also influence the emergence of eating disorders.

What are the warning signs you should look for

People suffering from eating disorders show certain changes in their behavior. Be aware of the following signs:
  • Change in eating habits (cutoff desserts and high-fat food; count calories).
  • Find excuses to avoid eating with family: “I ate already”, “I’m really not hungry”, “I will eat later”.
  • Fluctuation in body weight (bulimia).
  • Long periods of time in the bathroom with a background of running water.
  • Working too hard on school projects and homework. Extreme will to perform.
  • Isolation.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Intensive training.
Parent’s role

Your attitude can influence a fragile child. Your role is crucial.
  • Don’t criticize your child’s body or pay too much attention to other peoples appearance.
  • Don’t condemn high-fat or high-calorie food.
  • Talk about healthy eating and benefits of exercise instead.
  • Don’t use food to get your child to do something.
  • Look at your own eating habits.
  • Explain to your children the dangers of dieting.
  • Be sensitive to your children’s role models (actresses, models) and explain that they are not an absolute ideal.
  • Give them time.
  • Make dinner time a family activity that you enjoy

If you think that your child suffers from an eating disorder it is essential that you discuss it, even if it’s difficult. These disorders can have a significant effect on your child’s health. They can result in hair loss, and can slow metabolism, affect the thyroid gland, and stop menstruation. They can also contribute to exhaustion, heart disease, anemia and osteoporosis. Eating disorders are even fatal (20 percent of patients die from eating disorders).

If you suspect an eating disorder, you need to deal with it by talking to your child. Most of them won’t seek help by themselves. “You have to break the secret,” Says Dr. Baltzer. “Eating disorder patients are dependant, just like alcoholics. You must seek professional health.”