Family strain spurs symptoms in some bulimic teens

December 12, 2003 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Family strain spurs symptoms in some bulimic teens

Family arguments and conflict may trigger cycles of binging and purging for some teenage girls with bulimia, a small study suggests. The implication, researchers say, is that therapy focusing on easing family relations might help bulimic teens who feel there's too much conflict at home.

Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person falls into addictive cycles of eating large amounts of food, then purging - vomiting or using laxatives, fasting, or exercising excessively. Eating disorders are complex, and a range of factors, from cultural pressures to be thin to psychological problems like depression, are thought to contribute to them.

This study suggests that for some teens with bulimia, family conflicts may set off symptoms. Although clinicians and researchers have long believed that changing family interactions can help treat eating disorders, this is the first time research found a direct link between conflicts that occur and bulimic symptoms later that day.

During the study, 20 teenage girls with bulimia reported on instances of family conflict and bulimia symptoms every day for a week. The girls also completed standard questionnaires on family relationships, communication, and conflicts. The researchers found that family "hassles" often preceded girls' binging and purging-but only among those who felt that their families were full of conflict or that family members avoided discussing emotional issues.

The study suggests that if families can reduce clashes and help bulimic teens discuss feelings instead, this could help prevent cycles of binging and purging. Therapists could teach such families different ways to interact so that bulimic teens can learn to deal with arguments in a healthier way.

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