With eating disorders (EDs) on the rise among children and adolescents, the specialists at Rogers Memorial Hospital have designed programs just for them, targeted toward getting to the root of the problem. Dr. Tracey Cornella-Carlson, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist at the hospital, said that patients seeking treatment seem to be getting younger and younger.
“The youngest patient I’ve seen so far is 8,” Dr. Cornella-Carlson said. “At Rogers, we believe in offering the least restrictive level of care for that child’s age group. Children 12 and over may be treated in our Eating Disorder Center (EDC), which gives them a residential setting where they can get to the root of their ED and receive the treatment needed for recovery.”
Staggering Statistics, Especially Among Teens
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), children and adolescents in the United States are at high risk. In fact, up to 24 million people of all ages – both male and female – suffer from an ED. About 86 percent report the onset by age 20, with 43 percent reporting its onset between the ages of 16 and 20. Plus, EDs currently have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yet only 1 in 10 receives treatment. Less than half receive care by a specialized facility equipped to provide effective treatment.
In its article on teens and eating disorders, WomensForum.com speaks of an “alarming majority of teen girls” being at risk, indicating “fear of food” as a female epidemic. That’s especially disturbing considering the fact that the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old. That’s why many see EDs – especially anorexia nervosa – as a female disease even though males can be affected too.
ANAD also indicates that anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, with over half of teenage girls and one-third of boys using unhealthy weight control behaviors. About 95 percent of those with EDs are between 12 and 26. There are many contributing factors – genetic, sociological and psychological. EDs are complex diseases that can’t be cured by a decision to recover alone; thus, the importance of a specialized treatment program that utilizes many kinds of therapy.
“We often see co-existing disorders,” Dr. Cornella-Carlson (or Dr. CC, as her patients call her) continued. “In fact, EDs rarely stand alone. Intensive treatment provides the opportunity to identify other factors such as depression and anxiety that may trigger or perpetuate the ED. Finding these ‘roots’ can help us provide proper, effective treatment. A residential program, like what we offer in Rogers’ Eating Disorder Center, can often provide the best treatment for all disorders, helping to resolve the ED.”
A Former Patient Shares Her Story
Now 19, Alyssa Butte was a patient at the EDC. “My eating disorder began when I was in the eighth grade at about 14. My physician told me I was overweight for my height and build. That started me on a trend – trying to eat healthier – which progressed to something more deadly. I began avoiding food and working out excessively, running five to six miles a day. I weighed myself weekly, restricted calories and worked out whenever I could.” The following summer, Butte was taken to a hospital in Oconomowoc due to chest pains. She had lost 80 pounds in nine months. Tests showed her heart rate was dangerously low. A few weeks later, she was admitted to Rogers’ inpatient hospitalization program for a week before being transferred to the EDC.
During her stay, Butte had specialized care as an adolescent. Today, she believes the targeted treatment was beneficial on her road to recovery. “I’m glad I was with other girls like me, rather than lumped together with older patients or boys. I’m still in touch with some of the people I met there… and Dr. CC was awesome, so caring; she helped me get to the source of my problem, which stemmed from depression and feelings of abandonment. I thought my ED gave me control over my life, but in reality it controlled me.”
After being released against medical advice due to problems with insurance, Butte participated in the partial program for young adults for a few weeks before going right back to her old behavior. “I was about 15 by then and had missed half my freshman year,” she continued. “I heard the rumors and questions, and I couldn’t handle it because I was still going through it all.” A year later, she was back in the partial program, followed by maintenance with Dr. CC and a therapist for two years. She says she is managing well now.
“I still hear that inner voice from time to time. It’s an everyday battle, but I have not gone back to my ED behavior. I’ve gained weight, I work out, I eat healthy… and when that voice comes, I ignore it and I keep getting on with my life.” She believes her early days in the EDC helped change her thinking. “I was able to release so many pent-up emotions, and the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helped change my behavior. I began to see how irrational my thoughts were. When I got to the root of why I was feeling and thinking the way I was, it changed my behavior.” She added that she learned principles that she continues to apply every day.
“I want to tell others don’t give up! Keep trying. Look past your imperfections and get to the root of why you’re doing what you’re doing. The fight is so worth it. Life is a beautiful thing. Don’t allow an eating disorder to shorten it. Listen to your healthcare providers – you may feel they are evil at first because your ED is telling you so, but they really can help you.”
Commonly Diagnosed Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are the result of a psychological condition that manifests itself in unhealthy eating habits. Although there are several different types that can occur, the most common include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating.
- Bulimia – characterized by a preoccupation with food and weight. Binging
(consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time) results in
purging (self-induced vomiting), excessive exercise and/or fasting.
- Anorexia – characterized by refusal to maintain a normal
weight for one’s height, body type, age or activity level. There is often an
intense fear of becoming “fat” or gaining weight; a distorted body image is
- Binge eating – characterized by eating large amounts of
food in a short period of time, but no compensatory behavior like purging
A Dedicated Program for Children and Adolescents
A nationally respected leader in the treatment of eating disorders, Rogers Memorial Hospital is one of very few facilities in the United States that treats children and adolescents on a specialized inpatient ED unit. Children are monitored by a medical physician who has an extensive background in managing medical complications of eating disorders. Rogers offers a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation for identification and treatment of potential co-morbid illnesses. It is one of the few facilities in the nation that has dietitian-supervised eating and in-the-moment support.
Rogers offers 24-hour inpatient care, residential treatment and partial hospitalization designed especially for children and adolescents. The program uses evidence-based treatment components, including family education, nutrition, experiential therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and a newly proven approach to ED treatment – dialectical behavior therapy. The staff works with each patient to achieve nutritional stability, identify and correct errors in thinking, and address obstacles to recovery. All ED programs are aimed at getting to the core issue through custom, hands-on therapy by some of the country’s leading ED specialists. These programs are overseen by three full-time board-certified psychiatrists who specialize in treating EDs (Dr. Theodore Weltzin, Dr. Tracey Cornella-Carlson and Dr. Brad Smith).