Does your teen have unusual eating habits? Do they seem to be losing weight or refuse to eat around other people? If so, they may be experiencing an eating disorder.
There is no single source that causes eating disorders in teens, but there are various factors that can put them more at risk of developing this relatively common disorder.
Here, we’re taking a closer look at eating disorders—specifically in teens—to better understand this common mental health issue. We then detail common warning signs that can help you identify if your teen is experiencing an eating disorder and what you can do about it.
WHAT IS AN EATING DISORDER?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are “behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors and associated thoughts and emotions.”
While many people only see extreme dieting and weight loss as an eating disorder, binge eating also falls under this category. In general terms, an eating disorder occurs when someone has a prolonged unhealthy relationship with food.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS
Doctors have classified three primary types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders.
Here’s a closer look at each of these unique types of eating disorder:
1. Anorexia nervosa: this eating disorder is characterized by extreme weight loss when an individual essentially starves their body. Driven by an intense fear of gaining weight, those with anorexia nervosa may dramatically limit their caloric intake while consistently working out.
2. Bulimia nervosa: those with bulimia nervosa tend to swing between extreme types of eating. They’ll alternate between binge eating periods (eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time) with periods of extremely limiting their caloric intake (whether by eating less, vomiting, or completely fasting). Those experiencing bulimia nervosa may not appear underweight at all.
3. Binge eating disorders: similar to bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorders are characterized by periods of overeating. However, unlike bulimia nervosa, they do not oscillate between binge eating and periods of purging. This can lead to serious health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK OF DEVELOPING AN EATING DISORDER?
While anyone, regardless of their age, race, or nationality, can develop an eating disorder, teens tend to be even more susceptible. Additionally, girls are at a higher risk of experiencing an eating disorder compared to boys.
There is no exact reason for this increased risk in young people, but researchers suggest that puberty and body changes, peer pressure, and the inability to effectively deal with stress and anxiety could all play a role. In most societies, girls have much more pressure than boys to maintain a “perfect” body type that they see nonstop in the media.
WHAT CAUSES A TEEN EATING DISORDER?
There are many unique causes of eating disorders in teens. In many cases, it’s challenging to pin down and identify the primary cause because there are several factors leading to this behavioral issue.
Most causes for teen eating disorders can be divided into one of the following three categories: physical factor, psychological factor, or environmental factor. Of course, these factors are often intimately linked.
Physical factors that may cause eating disorders include improper dieting practices and hormonal changes. For many teens, the unpredictable changes brought on by puberty (especially physical changes) can spark an eating disorder. Like many other behavioral disorders, genetics can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Many teens with eating disorders also have mood or behavioral disorders that affect their relationship with food. Anxiety, stress, and depression have all been associated with the formation of eating disorders. Teens especially may not have the knowledge or resources to deal with the added stress and anxiety.
Additional psychological factors are presented every day in the media as teens receive messages about the importance of having the “perfect” body. To achieve the look of a supermodel (a body type that simply isn’t attainable for most people) teens may starve themselves or work out excessively, which over time can cause serious harm to their bodies.
DOES MY TEEN HAVE AN EATING DISORDER?
It can be challenging to determine whether or not your teen has an eating disorder. Especially during these formative years filled with hormones and new experiences, teens may change their diets or tastes for a variety of reasons. This doesn’t mean they have an eating disorder.
So, how do you know? Most likely, your teen won’t come up to you and tell you, which is why it’s important to give them time, energy, and attention so you’ll be able to identify any clear changes in their habits and behaviors. While each eating disorder is unique, there are several common warning signs to be aware of. These signs include the following:
· Skips meals.
· Hides food.
· Never seems hungry.
· Excessive exercise.
· Body insecurity.
· Disappears after meals.
· Avoids eating in public.
· Wears baggy clothes to disguise weight loss.
· Unusually rigid eating habits.
WHAT CAN I DO IF MY TEEN HAS AN EATING DISORDER?
If you believe your teen is experiencing an eating disorder—don’t panic. Eating disorders are, regrettably, a relatively common behavioral disorder. More importantly, they are very treatable if you are able to address the source of the disorder.
Sit down with your teen and be the one to start the conversation. In most cases, they won’t come to you as they may be struggling to understand the disorder as well. Come from a place of honesty, openness, and compassion. Never accuse them of having a “problem,” but rather, let them know that this is a disorder that many teens experience.
If your teen is willing, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a complete diagnosis. This will allow a medical professional to make a recommendation for the most effective treatment, whether that involves psychotherapy, group therapy, or admittance to a residential teen treatment center.
CONCLUSION – DOES MY TEEN HAVE AN EATING DISORDER?
Eating disorders are common in teens. In fact, roughly 10 percent of young women in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. If you believe your teen is experiencing this behavioral condition, don’t wait to act. Open the dialogue and schedule an appointment with a doctor.
They can provide a professional diagnosis and determine the next step. Whether incorporating therapy, better habits and relationships, or a residential treatment teen center, eating disorders are treatable.