Special Report: Young kids plagued by eating disorders
MONTREAL - One young Montrealer recalls how her descent into a battle against life-threatening eating disorders was triggered when another eight-year-old called her fat.
“I skipped one meal and then all of a sudden I skipped a lot of meals,” said Lyndsay.
Lyndsay, now 15, soon spiraled into full-out anorexia and required one month of treatment in hospital.
“I remember thinking all the time about what I looked like and how I need to eat less and how I need to look better,” she said. “So I started restricting food, I started telling my parents that I wasn't hungry anymore and I made up all of these excuses and lies.”
Statistics have shown that the number of cases of anorexia in children under 12 has exploded over the last decade.
One local medic has started seeing a lot more young children suffering from eating disorders.
“When I first started, they were the big exception,” said Dr. Franziska Baltzer.
Genetics, media representations vilifying chunky bodies are suspected of playing a role in the disorder, but there’s still no firm understanding of why some children fall prey while others do not.
Parents are even sometimes to blame, as some focus too intensely on preventing obesity.
“Parents feel under enormous pressure to bring their children up in a healthy way and then there is the whole urge to prevent obesity,” said Baltzer.
Jonathan, who like Lyndsay asked that his name not be revealed, recalls that similar taunts also launched him into eating disorders at age nine.
“Everybody was like saying "Haha! You're fat, you're fat" Because I was a bit fat. So I was not feeling good,” he said.
He stopped eating, started tossing out his lunches and lost 20 pounds.
“I was feeling good. I was like, ‘I want more, I want more, I want more,’” he said.
Jonathan also soon found that his new eating habits were dangerous.
He found himself in a hospital bed for four months.
Various local school boards have launched awareness campaigns focusing on the benefits of a proper diet but they also attempt to demonstrate that a little bit of indulgence is not a terrible thing.
Students at the Villa Maria even made a point of enjoying banana splits at a fundraiser for an eating disorder clinic.
Jonathan, now 11, has bounced back, Lyndsay still struggles with an eating disorder, having relapsed twice.
She explains the psychological struggle that can go on at mealtime.
“I'm hungry, I'm just imagining what I can eat. Physically, I feel like I can't do it. Something is telling me in my head that I shouldn't eat, that I'm not good enough to eat,” she said.