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Understanding Eating Disorders In Teenagers

Weight obsession affects millions of people across the globe. Although it can happen to all age groups, teenagers are more at risk of developing an eating disorder as changes in their bodies and hormones are happening at this stage in their life.

Often, teenagers develop eating disorders as a way to control certain aspects of their life. While the teens with eating disorders are extremely focused on their food, weight, and appearance, more often than not, underlying issues are being masked by the eating disorder.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a condition in which a person develops extreme eating behavior that has a negative impact on their health, emotions, and ability to function normally in some areas of their life. The most common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by the desire to be thin and have an intense fear of gaining weight.

  • Bulimia is another eating disorder characterized by eating large quantities of food in a short period and purging through self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives.

  • Binge-eating disorder is an eating disorder identified as the loss of self-control around food. Teens suffering from this often eat large amounts of food until they are uncomfortably full.

What Causes These Eating Disorders?

It is unknown what exactly causes an eating disorder in teens. However, some factors can increase a teenager's chance of developing an eating disorder:

  • Negative self-image - some teens have a hard time embracing the changes in their bodies and see these as flaws.

  • Psychological and emotional issues, such as anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression, can often be linked to eating disorders as teens find them as a means to control their life.

  • Societal pressure - Our society has put an extreme emphasis on what a perfect body image looks like. Teens often feel that they need to look a certain way to be accepted by society.

  • Participating in sports and activities that focus on weight control - some sports, like figure skating and activities like ballet, require participants to be lean. That Pressures them to keep up with their weight for fear of not being able to participate in something they enjoy. Those things can be overwhelming to some teens.

  • Having a family member with an eating disorder can also be a factor. As child imitates adults, teens may think that how their parents or adult family members eat is how they should eat.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorder in Teens

Signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Be on the lookout for changes in eating patterns and beliefs that might tell unhealthy eating behaviors. Some signs that might tell you if a teen might have an eating disorder include:

  • Unusual eating habits like skipping meals, leaving unfished food, and eating an abnormally large amount of food in one sitting

  • An extreme change in weight in a short period of time

  • Frequently checking in the mirror for physical changes

  • Change in sleeping pattern

  • Hair loss and dry skin can also be a cause of concern, while some teens develop rashes on their bodies. Loss of nutrition in the body will often manifest physically through hair loss, dry skin, skin rashes, among others.

  • Frequent weighing as a result of intense fear of gaining weight

  • Picky eating to the point of hiding when they eat to remove food that they think will affect their weight. Often, teens feel disgusted and guilty about their eating habits but are ashamed to talk about them.

  • Changes in behavior

Ways to Prevent Eating Disorders

Adult role models and guardians play a significant role in helping prevent eating disorders in teens. If a teen has an eating disorder or showing signs, talk to them in a loving and non-confrontational tone. Some ways you can help in preventing eating disorders include:

  • Encourage teens to eat clean and healthy. Discuss how a diet can affect your child's health, appearance, and energy level. Parents should encourage their teens to eat on time or whenever they feel hungry—stock up on healthy food and offer more choices for them.

  • Gather around the dinner table. Encourage your teens to eat by eating together as a family. Establish healthy eating habits with them. Setting a specific family mealtime will help develop your teen's healthy eating pattern.

  • Encourage body positivity. Offer reassurance that body shapes vary from person to person. Never allow and do not make comments and jokes based on body image; these jokes and comments often stick and are remembered throughout their lifetime. Embrace every part of them that they feel ashamed about will help them feel comfortable in their own body.

  • Encourage a strong sense of identity and self-worth. Assure teens of your love and acceptance based on their positive qualities and not just their weight.

  • Explain what an unhealthy eating habit does to one's physical and mental health. Talk to the teens about how bad dieting can compromise their health and development. Explain how a bad eating habit can lead to an eating disorder.

  • More importantly, set a good example for teens. Often, teens mimic the ways of the adults in their life. Make a conscious effort also to eat healthily and be proud of your body.

When to Seek Help?

If you suspect that a teen has an eating disorder, discuss the possibility of seeking help from a professional. Schedule an appointment with a doctor. A sit down with a doctor will help determine eating habits, physical activities, and body image. A referral to see a mental health provider may also be suggested by your family doctor, if necessary.

Ways To Treat Eating Disorders

If your teen is diagnosed with an eating disorder, please know that it is treatable. Treatments will usually involve therapy, a weight management program, and sometimes medication, if accompanied by a mental health condition.

If you think you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, now is the best time to talk to them. Remember that early intervention is the key to early recovery and working towards a healthy eating habit.

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