More than 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, which is defined as a psychological condition that causes unhealthy eating habits and negatively impacts your health, emotions and the ability to function in important areas of life. They are very common among teenagers, especially girls. A recent study found that almost 40% of teenage girls believed they were overweight, and 60% were actively trying to lose weight.
Most teens with eating disorders are overly concerned about their weight, body shape and appearance. They are intensely focused on food and dieting, and their dangerous eating habits may prevent them from getting proper nutrition. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
As a parent, you should also be concerned by the strong connection between eating disorders and substance abuse among teens. Studies have shown that half of all teens with an eating disorder also have an alcohol or drug addiction. And 37 percent of all teens with a substance abuse problem also have an eating disorder.
There are many factors that may influence a teenager’s eating disorder, including:
If you suspect your teen has an eating disorder, observe their eating habits and pay attention to what they say about food and dieting. Signs to watch for include:
Not everyone will experience these physical symptoms, but if they are present along with the behavioral signs, they indicate your teen likely has an eating disorder.
As a parent, there is a lot you can do to help your teen develop healthy eating habits.
1. Anorexia nervosa: Even when they are underweight to an unhealthy extent, teens with anorexia constantly worry about their weight, restrict their diet, and show signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to their eating habits, such as hoarding food. Anorexia affects more girls than boys. Signs that someone has anorexia include:
2. Bulimia nervosa: Teens who are bulimic often binge eat and then purge, and as a result they generally have a relatively normal weight. When they binge, they often feel they can’t stop, even though they eat so much they become physically uncomfortable. Then they purge to relieve that discomfort. Signs that someone has bulimia include:
3. Binge eating: This is one of the most common eating disorders. More than simply eating too much of a favorite dish, binge eating is characterized by repeated, uncontrollable eating. Teens who binge eat are often overweight and thus at risk for other health issues. Signs that someone has a binge eating disorder include:
4. Other eating disorders Rumination (regurgitating food that has been swallowed then chewing it again), Pica (eating non-food substances such as paper, laundry detergent, dirt, soap), Night Eating Syndrome (eating heavily late at night), and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake (avoiding certain tastes, smells, textures, and colors).