Liisa is a 15-year-old girl, who is doing well at school and exercises on a regular basis. In addition to her hobbies, she also takes a long run almost every night. Liisa has lost a considerable amount of weight within the last year. She only nibbles at her food during family meals. When her parents point out that she is not eating, she says she already ate at school or after exercising and is no longer hungry.
Liisa feels she would be more attractive and more popular if she could lose just a few more pounds. On the other hand, she often feels weak and it takes a lot of effort to finish schoolwork. Sometimes Liisa feels an uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts and she devours sweets and ice cream. Sometimes, after a binge eating attack like this, she feels like vomiting.
What can Liisa and her family do?
Liisa’s parents should discuss her weight loss and refusal to eat with her. In order for the conversation to be successful, it is extremely important that the parents remain calm and friendly and refrain from judging or preaching. Liisa must understand that eating too little can have devastating long-term effects to her own body. For example, sufficient nutrition is extremely important to teenagers in terms of their hormonal development, as well as for the development of bones, joints and teeth. Too low an energy intake may also make her feel even worse.
In addition to the subject of not eating, Liisa’s parents should also discuss her life situation as a whole. Is it possible she is having other problems besides eating too little? Is she being bullied at school or has she been depressed? How is her self-esteem, does she have things in her life that make her happy? Does she know what she is good at? How is the situation at home, can Liisa speak openly about her difficulties?
Liisa’s dieting is getting out of control and she may be suffering from an eating disorder. Her weight loss, binge eating attacks and excessive exercising may be temporary, but, if continued long enough, will become harmful to her health. Eating disorders often begin slowly and activities, such as exercise, which began as something normal becomes compulsory as the months progress. It is important to stop the eating disorder in time. Recovery from a prolonged disorder can take a long time.
It is important to seek professional help for excessive weight loss and asitia as early as possible. You can begin seeking help, for example, by discussing with the school nurse, school doctor or school psychologist. Health care centre doctors or private doctors can also be good primary contacts when seeking help. To begin with, Liisa could visit the webpage of Syömishäiriöliitto SYLI ry in order to find materials about eating disorders and to think about her own situation at the same time.
Treatment often begins as so-called outpatient care. Liisa could be offered conversational help, nutritional counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy 1 to 3 times a week, normally for a period of 1 to 3 years. Liisa might also be recommended to attend psychotherapy or group activities for people with eating disorders.
There are effective treatment methods available for eating disorders, and seeking treatment on time will speed up recovery. Liisa’s parents and siblings should also discuss the situation with a health care professional. If one family member is suffering from an eating disorder, it often strongly affects the entire family. Sometimes family therapy provides the best help for eating disorders.
In case Liisa’s mental or physical condition deteriorates significantly, the doctor may refer her to the hospital. The hospital can be a so-called eating disorder polyclinic, a psychiatric ward or a hospital ward focusing on the improvement of Liisa’s physical (nutritional) health.