Kids Vomiting to Lose Weight

Teen purging at commodeSelf-induced vomiting to lose weight appears to be on the rise among younger and younger children.

A recent study out of Taiwan that researchers wrote about in the Journal of Clinical Nursing revealed some startling statistics:  Out of 16,000 respondents, 15 percent of 13 to 15-year-olds said they had tried vomiting to lose weight in the last year and nearly 16 percent of 10 to 12-year-olds said they had.

This behavior was most prevalent among children who engaged in other unhealthy behaviors.  For instance, more than 20% of those who said they’d tried vomiting also said they ate fried food on a daily basis, and 18% said they spent more than two hours a day sitting at a computer. 

“It showed that self-induced vomiting was most prevalent in adolescents who had a sedentary lifestyle, slept less and ate unhealthily,” said Dr. Yiing Mei Liou, the study’s lead author.

In the United States, according to a 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control, 4% of teens in the U.S. said they had vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight in the 30 days before the survey.

Self-induced vomiting is not necessarily the same as bulimia but it is still an eating disorder.  Vomiting to lose weight can lead to more serious eating disorders like Bulimia and Anorexia.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where people binge and purge.  In binge eating people may eat a huge amount of food: snacks, several helpings of food,  and a large portion of desert in 2 hours or so, then purge.  They try to get rid of the food by vomiting or taking laxatives (usually in secret). 

Diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa is whether a person has engaged in binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting at least twice a week for three months or more.

Dr. Evelyn Attia, director of the Columbia University Center for Eating Disorders, says that this eating disorder appears to be affecting more younger males and younger females than they have seen before.

Parents should be alert for signs that their children may be purging.  Warning signs can include losing lots of weight, frequently disappearing into the bathroom, not eating with the family, eating large amounts of food and not gaining weight, using laxatives or diuretics, and withdrawing from social activities.

Although the main reason for kids to engage in self-induced vomiting is to lose weight, it is important to consider why kids may feel they need to lose weight.

Kids involved in some sports may believe that they need to change their body or be thin to compete.  Others may simply have a poor self-image and want to lose weight to make their bodies more “perfect”.  Others come from families where a parent is overly concerned with their kid’s appearance. 

Weight loss is not normal, or healthy for kids because they are growing.  Although no-one wants to be overweight, the body needs some fat to work properly.  If our weight gets too low we may start having health problems.  Over a long period of time, these problems can be severe and can cause death.

Purging causes a loss of nutrients, including potassium.  Too little potassium can lead to heart problems.  Purging can also cause tooth decay because puke is acidic.  People with bulimia may also damage their stomachs and kidneys.

When a parent or other care-giver notices any of the warning signs of serious eating disorders it’s important to take action  as soon as possible.  Talk to your children, and consider enlisting the support of other resources such as a doctor, a dietitian, or a counselor or therapist.  Together, this team can help children with eating disorders to reach a healthy weight, follow a nutritious diet, and feel good about themselves again.

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