Teenagers are the population most at risk of developing an eating disorder. Eating disorders impact your teen’s physical and mental health and should be taken seriously. The sooner you find support for your teen suffering from teenage eating disorders, the higher their likelihood of long-term recovery from mental health issues.
Causes of Eating Disorders in Adolescence
Mental health issues, genetic predisposition, multicultural factors, self-hatred, body image struggles, trauma, and unresolved family issues are the most prevalent factors in developing adolescent eating disorders. Understanding the different types of eating disorders is crucial, as they have unique characteristics and implications for adolescent development. The developmental and social changes experienced during adolescence can be particularly stressful for some individuals. Teenage eating disorders are often first diagnosed close to puberty but can also develop later.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Common symptoms of the primary teenage eating disorders include:
- Perceiving oneself as overweight even when a healthy weight or underweight.
- Severely restricting food intake.
- Obsessing over physical flaws and an “ideal” body.
- Experiencing fatigue due to lack of nutrients.
- Valuing oneself based on weight or thinness.
- Using laxatives.
- Vomiting after meals.
- Extreme preoccupation with weight.
- Strict dieting alternated with binge eating and purging (vomiting).
- Eating more to manage distress.
- Feeling out of control.
- Using alcohol or drugs.
- Using laxatives.
- Irregular menstrual cycles.
- Critical view of self.
- Leaving the table immediately after eating.
Binge Eating Disorder:
- Shame around eating.
- Avoidance of eating with others.
- Hiding and hoarding food.
- Weight fluctuations.
- Critical view of self.
- Shame and disgust after binging.
Finding Support: Groups for Parents of Teens with Eating Disorders
Parents must understand the nature of eating disorders and how to help their teens recover. Joining a support group for mental health offers you a safe place to process your experiences as a parent, strengthen your coping skills, and learn from professional resources and others’ experiences about how to help your child best.
Treatment for Eating Disorders in Adolescence
Because undereating or overeating can alter the brain’s perception of hunger and food intake, teenage eating disorders are particularly complex to treat. Collaborating with medical providers and mental health professionals is vitally important during treatment. A combination of individual and family therapy, nutrition counseling, and sometimes medication can make a significant difference in treatment outcomes.
Recovery from Eating Disorders: Hope and Healing
Many people have recovered from eating disorders, including Alexis. Alexis was raised by a father who struggled with alcohol abuse. While he was a loving parent when sober, he was highly critical and out of control when drinking. When and how much to eat was one of the few areas of her life Alexis felt she could control, and when anxious, she experimented to see how long she could go without eating. This turned into a compulsion that became more difficult to manage. When her aunt mentioned that she seemed uncomfortable eating with the family and spent a lot of time in the bathroom afterward when she did, she admitted that she rarely ate and that she almost always purged if she did.
While her father wasn’t stable enough to join family therapy, Alexis’ aunt supported her treatment by attending group sessions and offering a safe place to stay when needed. Alexis worked with a therapist to learn alternate ways of managing her anxiety, and a nutritional counselor showed her how to eat so that she felt strong and clear-headed. Now, when she feels overwhelmed, she knows where to turn. An ongoing support group and weekly therapy have helped her to remain healthy now that she is a college student.
Nutrition for Teens: Promoting Healthy Eating Habits
Parents and family members greatly influence how teens view their bodies and eating habits. They can:
- Model how they care for their physical and mental health.
- Eat food that is healthy and enjoyable.
- Provide nutritious food for their teens without forcing them to eat it.
- Model being active in ways they enjoy.
- Talk about what character traits they most value in themselves and others.
- Avoid discussing or criticizing their own or others’ appearance or body.
These habits provide a solid foundation for physical health and body image.
FAQs About Teenage Eating Disorders
What are the most common eating disorders among adolescents?
Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder are adolescents’ most common eating disorders. Anorexia involves avoiding eating or using purging, laxatives, or exercise to become or stay thin. People with Bulimia binge eat and then vomit, while those with Binge Eating Disorder have intense episodes of overeating and feel disgusted about it afterward but rarely purge.
How can I recognize if a teenager has an eating disorder?
There are many signs to alert you to your teen having an eating disorder. These include obsessing about food and food intake, weight fluctuations, avoiding eating around others, spending more time than usual in the bathroom, having an extremely negative self-image, focusing on weight and thinness as ideals, feeling depressed or ashamed, being distracted by food or weight, overexercising, and/or having irregular meal patterns.
What causes teenage eating disorders?
Teenagers with mental health issues, a family history of eating disorders, trauma, multicultural factors, self-hatred, body image struggles, and/or unresolved family issues are the most likely to develop eating disorders. Major life transitions, including puberty, leaving for college, experiencing a loss, having a child, or moving, may cause a recurrence or worsening of symptoms. Anorexia nervosa support groups in Laguna Beach offer crucial assistance and a community for those navigating through the complexities and challenges of eating disorders, providing a supportive environment especially in times of transition and recurrence.
How can I approach a teenager who may have an eating disorder?
Starting with compassionate curiosity is important to build trust with a teen. They are likely to be very dedicated to their behavior, feel out of control, and/or be ashamed of what they’ve been doing. Asking about something simple you’ve noticed, such as “You seem to be in a hurry to leave the table and I wonder why?” or “It seems like you’ve been really worried about your weight,” will elicit more information than blame or judgment.
What treatment options are available for teenagers with eating disorders?
There are several successful treatment strategies for eating disorder recovery. Individual therapy, family therapy, nutritional counseling, medication, and/or inpatient treatment may be part of your teen’s care team’s plan. Contact Alter Wellness Care today to explore what treatment will support your teen’s recovery.
Are there support groups for parents dealing with a child’s eating disorder?
Many online and in-person support groups for parents support teens with eating disorders. Having an understanding community for yourself helps you be a healthier parent for your teen, and everyone in the group benefits from sharing experiences and resources.
Can teenagers fully recover from an eating disorder?
Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible but takes dedication and time. Working with a nutritional counselor and a mental health therapist is important to address every aspect of your recovery. Many teenagers with eating disorders have recovered, grown into healthy adults, and thrived in every aspect of their lives.
How important is nutrition for teenagers recovering from eating disorders?
Because undereating or overeating alters our brain’s ability to recognize hunger and manage food intake, it’s important to work with a nutritional counselor who can guide you in choosing the best foods to help you recover and stay healthy throughout your lifetime.