Rochester, N.Y. – At 12, Alyssa Morales was full of promise.
Middle school in Brockport was to be a time to shine, but in the new setting Alyssa felt like she was losing control.
"I started to get anxious with the amount of work and, in turn, I put all of that anxiety onto my body and feel bad about my body and the way it looked so I started cutting back on how much I ate and used exercise to control my weight and that lasted for about 3 months before I was hospitalized for the first time for anorexia nervosa," Alyssa said.
Three dark years have followed.
"I’m very sick of being sick," she says.
Helena Boersma has been guiding Alyssa through the disease.
She’s the program director of Harmony Place at St. Joseph’s Villa, a temporary home for teens battling an eating disorder.
Boersma says Alyssa’s case typifies a terrible trend: more young kids are being hospitalized with an eating disorder.
"This isn’t someone with just an illness, this is someone so sick that it requires them to go into the hospital for stabilization," she says.
According to one report, the number of kids 12 and younger to be hospitalized with an eating disorder has more than doubled in the last decade.
Boersma says kids who are predisposed to the disease are being bombarded weight-loss messages and images.
"Who’s talking about weight loss? Everybody is," Boersma says. "It’s on TV, it’s become a standard conversation point and if you’re not talking about weight loss there’s something wrong with you."
Boersma adds a child’s young age can work against them.
"They don’t have the developmental capacity to understand what they’re asking of themselves, they’ll follow their parents or friends in weight loss," she said.
Now 15, Alyssa is back at school and trying desperately to regain real control of her life.
"Through treatment and continuing on the track that I’m on which will hopefully lead me to self-acceptance," she said.
Here is a link to a list of places you can call if you want help for yourself or someone you care about.