Could My Son Have Anorexia?

My son is almost 16. He is 5'8" and weighs about 110 pounds. He obsesses about fat grams. He thinks he has fat on his chest and around his waist. He gets dizzy when he stands suddenly and has a low energy level. I can't force him to eat, nor can I convince him to have a checkup because he thinks doctors would "try to make him fat." I've heard of anorexia, but isn't that a female illness?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Yes, boys do get anorexia, although it is ten times more common in girls. Perhaps that's because we live in a society where female beauty is linked to thinness. The reasons for male anorexia are not as clear and may include pressure to be thin for a particular sport, such as running or wrestling. It is also hypothesized to be related to male gender identity problems since normal male desire is to be bigger and stronger, compared to a female desire to be thin.

Whatever the reasons for the disorder, the manifestations are generally the same. Anorexics share an intense fear of getting fat, an inability to perceive body weight or shape correctly and a refusal to maintain a body weight at or above 85 percent of normal (based on age, sex, and height). The description of your son that you provided seems to fit all three of these diagnostic criteria.

Anorexia does have a genetic connection. It seems to run in families, particularly those with a history of mental illness. (Anorexia is a mental illness with physical ramifications and requires both physical and mental treatment). In fact, half of all anorexics meet diagnostic criteria for depression. Nearly as many suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The disease tends to be chronic and is very serious. Anywhere from 5 to 18 percent will eventually die from starvation, cardiac arrest or suicide. It requires attention before severe weight loss and medical problems occur. The faster help is provided, the greater the chances for full recovery.

Begin by expressing your concerns to your son. Then, you need to get professional help. Speak with your pediatrician first. They have a history of your son's medical conditions and growth patterns that can help them plan a course of treatment.

The best treatment for anorexia includes a combination of medical, psychological and nutritional counseling. Participation by the entire family is important for success. Expect resistance from your son. Anorexics do not believe they are in danger -- or do not wish to acknowledge it -- because their desire to be thin is so strong. They do not think they need help.

Treatment can take a few months to several years depending on the severity of the case, so patience is important. Support groups may help you through the long periods of treatment and recovery. There is plenty of online information and help. The following three sites may be of help to you.

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