Eating Disorders in Teens and Children

 

Thousands of teens and young adults develop eating disorders each year while struggling with weight problems, negative body images, or emotional or stress-related issues. These extremes in eating behaviors go way beyond dieting or starting an exercise regimen.

Although the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recently released data that obesity rates – especially for children – are actually decreasing, there is a concern that all of the anti-obesity messages may be inadvertently pushing young folks towards developing eating disorders. This is in addition to the propaganda the media constantly feeds them about celebrity teens and athletes.

When teens become overly concerned about their weight and looks, this sometimes can lead to unhealthy weight control measures. In turn, this can cause dramatic weight fluctuations posing a risk of permanent damage to their health in the form of heart conditions or kidney failure. Eating disorders can also morph into other types of disorders and behaviors such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Teen Eating Disorder Symptoms

Since no one can tell just by looking at someone if they have an eating disorder, parents may initially find it hard to recognize whether their child is suffering from one. The following symptoms may indicate if someone is struggling with an eating disorder or at risk of developing one:

  • Rejecting their favorite foods
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Counting calories or keeping food/nutritional content diaries
  • Spending too much time in the bathroom
  • Indulging in strenuous exercises for a prolonged period
  • Expressing anxiety about food
  • Skipping mealtimes
  • Hoarding or hiding food
  • Intense fear of becoming overweight

Typically, eating disorders in teens involve self-critical, negative thoughts about body weight and food, which may cause them to make drastic changes in food and eating habits. This problem is more common among girls, but this does not mean boys are immune to it. In the United States, the problem is so common that 1 or 2 of every 100 children struggle with eating disorders.

Types of Eating Disorder

Anorexia: Children with an intense fear of becoming fat often refuse to consume adequate calories. In this condition of anorexia, children strive to maintain a low body weight and frequently obsess over food intake.

Bulimia: Like anorexia, bulimia is characterized by the fear of weight gain. The condition involves binge eating and then purging their body of the extra calories through self-induced vomiting to prevent weight gain. Some kids may even take laxatives to prevent calorie buildup.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

The good news is that eating disorders can be effectively treated. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, try and encourage her to open up and share some of her feelings. Some children may get angry or defensive when confronted for the first time about their eating habits; however, it’s important to be supportive by listening to her concerns without criticism. Then, enlist the help of your family doctor, a nutritionist, and a medical professional so that your child can make a healthy recovery as soon as possible.