Local health professionals urge parents of kids with eating disorders to get help

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Up to 10 million Americans live with an eating disorder and a growing number of children make up that group.

Health professionals in the Triad are urging parents of kids with eating disorders to get help now.

"It takes an average of 13 months to get treatment for an eating disorder, which really is a shame," said Julie Dillon Duffy, an eating disorder specialist and licensed dietitian.

When people first walk into Dillon Duffy's office, it's often the first time they're asking for help.

"People are resistant to getting help, because they’re defending their illness," said Lynda Noffsinger, a licensed professional counselor. "It’s a way of feeling like they’re in control, when really they don’t have any control."

Dillon Duffy brought together Triad doctors, dietitians, nutritionists and therapists to create "Space for All." The group provides treatment and fights stigma about the disease.

"Eating disorders are not just thin, young, white women," she said. "Eating disorders affect people of every size, every gender, every walk of life."

In her practice, Noffsinger has seen patients as young as 13.

"I’d much rather see somebody and work with a teenager that is developing eating disorder tendencies, because if I’m working with someone that’s in their 30s or 40s, it has become a part of their identity," she said.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders in children are on the rise. By age 6, most girls have expressed concern about their weight.

"The longer someone has experienced an eating disorder, the harder it is to recover," Dillon Duffy said.

Both women recommend starting with counseling and nutrition therapy, but they say change can start at home with conversations about body image and healthy eating habits.

"Policing it is something that only impacts it in a way that’s more harmful, it doesn’t really end up promoting health," Dillon Duffy said. "I really encourage family and loved ones to stop talking about bodies altogether."

"Space for All" also has several support groups, including some just for teenagers and some for friends and family of eating disorder patients.