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Winning the Battle Against Eating Disorders

At age twelve, Tara began dieting because of an early growth spurt that came much sooner than most of her friends. She "felt fat" compared to them.  First, she stopped eating desserts; then, she stopped eating lunch by throwing her sack lunch away at school. Soon, Tara began restricting foods with fat in them, started eating smaller portions and, eventually, skipped some meals altogether. She began withdrawing, avoiding meals with friends and family, and exercising.

Tara is suffering from an eating disorder, and she's not alone. More than 11 million Americans struggle with eating disorders. Research shows that eating problems are common in children and adolescents, mainly among girls and young women. In fact, as many as three percent of young women suffer from an eating disorder. Boys and young men can also struggle with eating disorders, but less frequently than females. However, research indicated that the prevalence of eating disorders in both groups may be rising.

Eating Disorders Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center

In response to this need, Children's Hospital & Medical Center offers an eating disorders program that specializes in the care of children and adolescents up to age 21. Located at 1000 N. 90th Street (90th & Western) in Omaha, the program is the only one of its kind in the region and offers an individualized treatment plan that addresses the psychological, medical and family problems associated with eating disorders. Due to its smaller size, Children's Eating Disorders Program is able to offer more individualized attention and care compared to other eating disorders programs.

Types of Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia nervosa is an illness characterized by self-starvation and often by over-exercise. Someone suffering from anorexia has a disturbed body image, an intense fear of becoming obese and an inability to maintain normal body weight.
  • Bulimia nervosa is an illness characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by purging. A bulimic individual tends to binge on high-calorie, easily ingested foods and is preoccupied with body shape and weight. Regular purging behavior (such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics) or rigorous exercise in order to prevent weight gain accompanies this disorder.

As Tara's eating disorder progressed, she began running three hours per day, then started adding other exercises like crunches and leg lifts.  Her exercise regime soon became very ordered and, if she were interrupted in the middle, she would start over again. By the time Tara was 14, she began to feel weak and lost interest in exercising. She also began to spend most of her time alone.

When Tara's parents intervened, she told them her stomach hurt. Her parents took her to her pediatrician, where they learned that Tara had lost 20 pounds in a year. After a battery of tests, Tara's pediatrician referred her to a psychotherapist, who in turn referred her to the eating disorders program at Children's. By then, Tara's blood pressure and pulse were very low and the results of an EKG were abnormal.

Individualized Treatment Plan

Because an eating disorder is an illness that requires careful evaluation and comprehensive treatment, the eating disorders program at Children's is focused on rapid symptom control. This approach concentrates on enhancing physical and psychological development to prevent children from suffering from the effects of eating disorders as adults. The program provides treatment for uncomplicated eating disorders, and complex, hard-to-treat problems, all while stressing family involvement as an essential component of the treatment plan.

The eating disorders program at Children's is distinguished by a high staff-to-patient ratio. Each patient's treatment team includes a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, a board-certified pediatrician, a psychologist and a social worker. A nutritionist, a recreational exercise therapist, nurses and a teacher are also part of the team. This team works together to make a diagnosis based on various assessments, and a treatment recommendation is made.

Treatment Results

Tara's turning point came during her group therapy sessions with other patients in the program. Her peers told her she had a problem, but that she also had the strength and courage to control it. As Tara realized her parents and friends supported her, she wanted to get better. She began to eat healthy foods and realized this gave her energy. During her participation in art therapy, she drew a picture of her eating disorder – a big monster covering the entire page. Tara called her eating disorder "big monster Ed," a creature she feared and was battling. Before leaving the  program, Tara told the staff that because of them, she was no longer afraid of Ed.

For more information on the eating disorders program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center, call 1-800-833-3100

© Children's Hospital & Medical Center | In Affiliation with University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine