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Eating Disorders and Teens

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common eating disorders are Bulemia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. These eating disorders can have a devastating effect on teens, and are more prevalent in girls than in boys. Bulemia Nervosa is a cycle of binge eating followed by behaviors such as self-induced vomiting. Anorexia Nervosa is trying to maintain a below-normal weight and distorted body image through starvation, food restriction or too much exercise. Binge Eating Disorder is frequently eating unusually large amounts of food in one sitting and feeling out of control in regard to eating.

Although the exact cause of eating disorders is uncertain, there are factors which may put teens and adults at risk for developing one of the above disorders:

  • Societal pressure. Our society considers being thin to be an ultimate goal, and this pressure to   be thin can be overwhelming to most. Even people who are of a normal weight can see themselves as fat due to this pressure to be thin. Many people often remark that they are ugly and unattractive and compare themselves to unreasonable standards.
  • Activities. Teens are often involved in activities such as modeling, cheering or sports which can lead to great pressure to be thin or fit their bodies into a certain look.
  • Personal traits. Some personal traits can put people more at risk of developing an eating disorder, such as being a perfectionist or having a lot of anxiety.

The Mayo Clinic offers certain signs that may indicate a possible eating disorder or the early onset of an eating disorder. Keep in mind, however, that the signals listed will vary depending on which eating disorder a person might have:

  • Constantly worrying and complaining about being fat
  • A preoccupation with food and eating
  • Running to the bathroom immediately after eating or during a meal
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating in secret
  • Finding excuses not to eat
  • Regularly eating much more food than is considered normal
  • Excessive exercise
  • Always looking in the mirror
  • Misuse of laxatives or diuretics
  • Indicating shame or disgust regarding the eating habits or themselves or others
  • A noticeable change in weight

If a parent sees any of these signs, it is important to seek professional help. Do not rely solely on discussing the situation with your teen. Eating disorders can be life-threatening. Treatment for an eating disorder will vary depending on which disorder your teen has. It can include family and individual therapy, medication, and/or hospitalization. 

Parents can reduce the chance of their child developing an eating disorder by:

  • Encouraging healthy eating habits.  One way to do this is by setting a good example in the way you eat. Using mindfulness at mealtimes, preparing healthy choices ahead of time, and being knowledgeable about how fruits, protein, and vegetables nourish our bodies.
  • Promoting a healthy body image. Talk to your teen about how different sizes and shapes are all beautiful. Do not allow name-calling around a person’s size or shape (or for any other reason). Refrain from body shaming yourself and remember you are always modeling behavior.
  • Discuss messages in the media and how deceptive they can be. There are even websites that promote Anorexia Nervosa as a lifestyle choice! Be aware of what your teen is reading, viewing.
  • Help build self-esteem in your teen. Be a source of encouragement and praise. Let your teen know love and acceptance from you is unconditional and never based on weight or appearance.  Point out the qualities you most admire about your teen. These could include a sense of humor, a compassionate heart, consciousness, or a giving spirit.
  • Share the dangers of emotional eating and dieting. Help your teen be aware of the importance of nutrition. It is also important to set a good example here. Refrain from eating sacks high in calories or sugar after announcing how stressed out you are. Also let your teen know that eating is not a healthy, nor effective way to deal with emotions. Encourage your teen to talk to a family member, friend, or counselor to learn other ways to express and manage intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be very serious and life-threatening. Do not hesitate to seek help for your teen if you suspect a problem in this area. Our counselors are ready to help with preventative strategies or treatment interventions. We are ready and willing to be part of your support group and journey toward wellness. Give us a call.