After our twins, Susy and Libby, finished their first semester at different colleges a few years ago, I asked them about the biggest challenge they'd faced as Christians on campus. To my surprise, it wasn't encountering the parties, casual sex, or agnostic professors. It was seeing the number of girls struggling with an eating disorder.
Could your daughter be dealing with this prevalent problem? Here's how to tell—and what measures to take.
What's the Definition?
Two types of eating disorders exist: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is characterized by a weight loss of at least 15 percent below normal body weight, and the loss of a menstrual period for 3 consecutive months. The sufferer has a tremendous fear of gaining weight and an obsessive preoccupation with food and exercise. Dry skin, brittle nails, and constipation may occur. Another symptom may be lanugo (fine, downy hair growing on the body or face). Hair may thin and fall out, and an anorexic may be sensitive to cold, deny hunger, and refuse to eat.
Bulimia is characterized by two or more episodes of binge eating every week for at least three months. Binges sometimes are followed by vomiting or purging (the use of laxatives or diuretics), and may alternate with compulsive exercise and fasting. While an anorexic's weight loss is noticed, a bulimic may not look thin. Her dental enamel may erode (a result of stomach acid), and she'll have a sore throat from vomiting. A girl may begin with anorexia and move to bulimia; they also can coexist.1