Is Your Teenager Developing an Eating Disorder?

Is Your Teenager Developing an Eating Disorder?

In a society that emphasizes the need for thinness to be happy and/or accepted, we are seeing eating disorders, especially Anorexia and Bulimia, reaching epidemic proportions in our young people. Each person and each eating disorder is very complex in nature and the impact on relationships, family, and school performance can be devastating.  But there is help and hope if you get treatment early.

What to Look for:

Some signs and symptoms to look for, dramatic weight loss, wearing baggy clothes to hide the body shape and weight loss, obsession with weight, calories and fat content in foods. Obsession with continuous exercise, visible food restriction and self-starvation. Fear of eating with others coupled with increased isolation. Food rituals such as hiding food, cutting food into very small and numerous pieces to delay eating could be behaviors leading to Anorexia. The person becomes sensitive to cold, can experience dizziness and headaches, hair loss, pale or gray appearance of the skin, trouble sleeping and concentrating.  Bulimia behaviors may consist of frequent trips to the bathroom immediately following meals, visible binging and or purging behaviors, use of diet pills, laxatives, ipecac or enemas, Hiding food in strange places, secretive eating patterns, always a pre-occupation with food and weight, frequent sore throats and/or swollen parotid glands. Binging on high calorie foods but not gaining weight. Dental problems and heart conditions can occur. What someone is doing with food is it an eating disorder or disordered eating; only a professional eating disorder specialist can evaluate the difference.

What causes someone to develop an eating disorder? Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, tendencies to strive for perfection and rigid standards for oneself. Depression, anxiety, anger, emptiness or loneliness drives people to act out through/with food. Feelings the lack of control in one’s life or feelings of inadequacy.

Social/cultural factors have a powerful impact especially on teens. The cultural pressures to have the perfect body and a drive for thinness that equals how one is valued. Cultural emphasis on worth based on physical appearance and not one’s inner strengths and qualities. Persistent and pervasive media messages encouraging dieting and influencing people to think they are “not enough” so they will buy products that promise change.

Interpersonal factors such as difficulty expressing ones feelings and emotions, family disharmony, a history of being ridiculed based on size or weight, a history of sexual or physical abuse and family factors such as parental preoccupation with eating, weight, and unrealistic expectations for achievement.

Biological and Biochemical factors are still being researched but there has been some evidence that some eating disorder sufferers have imbalances in certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite and digestion. But more studies are needed.

 

 

Eating disorders are not about food! However food and weight obsession are used as a way of dealing with the under lying issues of low self-esteem, insecurity, feeling empty inside, believing in the cultural messages that we can never measure up, seeking perfection that doesn’t exist, a need to be special or unique, a feeling of accomplishment, the need to be in control of something in their lives, difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings openly coupled with a lack of trust in self and others. The fear of success or failure, the fear of growing up and being responsible. Hiding sexuality or possible history of sexual abuse. Food can be used as comfort and nurturing.

What you can do to help a loved one you suspect has an eating disorder. The first thing to keep in mind is if you do not have an eating disorder it will be difficult to understand. You cannot force an anorexic to eat, keep a bulimic from purging, or make a compulsive overeater stop overeating. The first thing to realize once you become aware that your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder is not to concentrate immediately on the food. All forms of eating disorders are emotionally based and the behaviors are only symptoms of the emotional and stress related problems. Acting out with food is an attempt to control, hide, stuff, avoid and forget emotional pain, stress or self hatred.

Denial is frequently part of the illness, so expect that anger, defensiveness or a refusal to seek help are possible. You cannot force someone to give up their eating disorder you can only express your concerns and observations. Approach the person privately when there is enough time to seriously discuss the issue, not at the dinner table or over food. Offer your observations of what behaviors you have seen in a caring manner, be specific. Tell the person you are worried about them and would like them to get help, be prepared with resources. Ask them to speak to a professional that specializes in eating disorder treatment for an evaluation. Encourage the person to express their feelings openly and listen without judgment. Do not argue with the person as to whether or not they have an eating disorder, this will not help.

Get as much education as you can about eating disorders. Eating disorders are a family affair, no one is to blame but everyone is responsible. Often people struggle with not only the eating disorder but a combination of destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, cutting or acting out sexually. Eating disorders do not only affect females, we are seeing a higher percent of young men developing eating disorders due to the pressures placed on them in our society. Males are also getting more and more messages that they are not o.k. either. The need to have six pack abs, 0 percent body fat etc. have driven young men to do some very destructive behaviors such as compulsive exercising, steroid use, etc.

Eating disorders are very serious; every person with an eating disorder has a different story, different background and different personality. But there is hope and help; if an eating disorder is treated early enough our teens can escape the years of physical and emotional pain that the eating disorders bring.

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