Understanding Teen Eating Disorders and Ways to prevent them
Eating disorders often take root during the early years of adolescence. This is a time when young people become more aware of the social demands for a physical ‘ideal,’ and many may feel they fall short. The teen years are a fertile ground for an eating disorder to develop, as various elements of this phase of life—stress, insecurity, societal pressures, athletic competition—may contribute to the teen’s eventual disordered eating patterns.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder are serious health conditions that should not be ignored. The exact cause of eating disorders is often a mystery, with complex factors at the root of the condition making it challenging to identify the origin. The societal emphasis on being a certain size and shape can so color a young person’s sense of self that is can lead to disordered eating habits in the quest to meet that expectation.
In addition, personality traits like perfectionism, certain genetic or biological factors, or mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are also possible risk factors for an eating disorder. Also, a general sense of having no control over one’s life is a common trait among teens suffering with an eating disorder.
Does my Teen have an Eating Disorder?
Because there are different eating disorders with different symptoms, it isn’t easy to identify whether or not a child may be developing disordered eating patterns. However, there are some common behaviors that may indicate an adolescent is struggling with an ED, such as:
- Persistent worry about being “fat” and obsession with losing weight
- Skipping meals
- Obsession with celebrities’ physiques and wanting to emulate them
- Eating in secret
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Visiting the bathroom immediately after each meal
- Excessive exercise
- Using laxatives and/or diuretics
- Eating large amounts of high fat or sugary foods
- Expressing disgust at their eating habits
- Eating more food at a meal than is considered the norm
These red flags should be addressed as possible symptoms of a serious problem and, if the behaviors persist, steps should be taken to get professional help for the teen.
How can Teen Eating Disorders be prevented?
If your teen is displaying some of the thoughts and behaviors that may precede the development of an eating disorder, open communication is key. Because a young person’s self-worth is often tied up with their body image, talking about their concerns at an early stage is helpful in directing them to healthier thinking.
Some areas that can help promote a more balanced approach to ______ include:
- Set a healthy example. Kids look to their parents for direction and emulate them to a large degree. If parents are obsessing about weight and dieting, or constantly complaining about their shape or size it can set disordered thoughts in motion in an impressionable young teen.
- Discuss media influence. Young people are not yet aware of how powerful an influence the media is on our thoughts and behaviors, and are more vulnerable to the messaging. Teach your teen that celebrities’ photos are often photo-shopped and not natural. Point out stars that are famous and talented who have curves and some extra pounds on their frames. Explain how cultural preferences for the desired shape is ever changing and that one should not be a slave to them.
- Build self-esteem. Teens often are insecure about their changing bodies, so help them feel good about themselves by pointing out their special qualities and skills that have nothing to do with physical appearance. By praising their accomplishments at school, in sports, and their areas of interest you will foster a healthy sense of self in your teen.
- Discuss the dangers of dieting. If your teenager is engaging in fad diets or fasting they could be compromising their health. Teach them about the dangers of robbing the body of important nutrients and about the body’s nutritional needs while it is still growing.
- Discuss the consequences of emotional eating. A teen may attempt to work out their emotional issues through food. Teach your teen that strict controls over diet or over-consumption of ‘comfort foods’ is not a healthy way to cope with negative emotions or stress. Encourage open communication with your adolescent, or direct them to a counselor, pastor, or another family member to discuss the problems they may be experiencing.
- Discuss the negative impact of social media. While bullying is not new, teens tormented about their appearance on a social media platform is a relatively new phenomenon–one which can have devastating consequences. A young teen being skewered publicly for their size or shape on a social media app may take drastic measures in response. If your teen is being bullied online they need support.
Treatment for a Teen with an Eating Disorder
When a teen begins to use food as a tool for managing emotional pain it is time to reach out for professional assistance. Each teen suffering with an eating disorder has a unique set of factors that led to their condition; therefore the approach to treating them must be individualized in order to be effective.
At Casa Serena, our dedicated professionals treat each young person with the compassion they deserve, focusing on the individual, not the diagnosis. Call us today (925) 682-8252 and let our expert and caring staff put your teen on the path to a full recovery, and a new, healthy beginning.
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