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What is an eating disorder?
If you’re the parent of a teen, it can be hard to tell if they’re struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex with a range of symptoms. Because symptoms can be hard to recognize, teen eating disorders often go untreated. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it’s important to learn to identify the signs and symptoms. And if you see your teen is affected, you can help them find the treatment they need. Read on to learn about the types of eating disorders, how they might manifest in your teen, and how you can help.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
There are many kinds of eating disorders, but the most common are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Below are some signs and symptoms that may show your teen is suffering from one of these disorders:
- Extreme food restrictions (skipping meals, eating very small portions throughout the day, fasting, or dieting)
- Avoiding social or family events that involve food
- Excessive exercise
- Frequent use of laxatives or diuretics
- Eating large amounts of food all at once
- Feeling guilty after eating
- A refusal to maintain healthy body weight, or fear of gaining weight
- Concerned about being thin
- Pale skin and/or dark circles under their eyes from malnutrition
- Menstrual irregularities
Causes of Eating Disorders in Teens and Children
Eating disorders in teens and children are often caused by other mental health struggles, like depression or anxiety. Disordered eating behaviors maybe your child’s way of attempting to cope with stressors in their life. These could include bullying, family problems, poor body image, or feeling a lack of control. Societal beauty standards can also lead to or exacerbate disordered eating behaviors.
What to Do if You Think Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder
If you suspect your teen may have an eating disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent the disorder from developing and causing further health complications. Be sure you let your kiddo know that you don’t judge them and that you care about their health and wellbeing. Make an appointment with a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders. A therapist can help your teen take steps toward repairing their relationship with food and addressing the root causes of the issue. Your child’s doctor or therapist may recommend family therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, or medication as a part of the treatment plan. If you’re looking for a resource to help your teen begin their recovery journey, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org/teenagers.
Author Bio: Joan Harris is an ex-therapist turned writer with a passion for spreading mental health awareness.
Citation: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).