Disorders in teenagers are more common than one might think. They are a group of symptoms associated with a toxic relationship with food. Teenagers often have a distorted sense of self-image and struggle with perfectionism.

During this age, teenagers think that they are not good enough or attractive. Being skinny or looking a certain way is common obsession teenagers struggle with. Eating disorders are often an indicator of a deeper psychological problem.

In some families, girls are shamed for being chubby or overweight. They are often made to feel guilty for eating what they like and being comfortable in their skin. This behavior distorts a teenager’s perception of being pretty or attractive.

Eating disorders are more common in girls. They engage in unhealthy eating habits to look a certain way without realizing the harmful side effects of starving themselves. This unhealthy relationship with food gets formed mostly due to environmental factors. This gets projected in a desperate attempt to try and seek validation for being attractive or pretty.

Eating disorders can be treated if they are diagnosed at the right time and proper treatment is started. Parents and teachers should be more conscious and aware of subtle symptoms.

So what exactly are eating disorders?

Also called feeding and eating disorders, this mental health condition is characterized by developing an unhealthy coping mechanism resulting in starvation or overeating. Eating disorders can cause emotional distress hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.

Out of all mental disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate. This is a serious condition a teenager suffers from. Adequate measures must be taken before the body gets seriously malnourished or immunity gets compromised.

There are mainly three types of eating disorders.

Binge eating disorder is the most common of them all. It refers to a disorder characterized by multiple periods of binge eating (the consumption of a large quantity of food) and the feeling that there is no control over quantity. Insecurity with being overweight is the main cause of this disorder. This is most commonly seen in obese teenagers.

Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterized by binge eating, followed by purging. Trying to vomit out the food recently consumed is a way to compensate for the extra calories consumed is a common symptom.

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by consuming very small quantities of food, leading to starvation, malnourishment, nutritional deficiencies, drastic weight loss, and distorted body image. This disorder is the least commonly occurring in teenagers.

Here is a list of signs to look out for identifying eating disorders in teenagers.

  • Excessive restrictions with diet.
  • Frequent and significant changes in weight.
  • Dissatisfaction with physical appearance.
  • Consuming excess or very low quantities of food.
  • Over-exercising.
  • Repeated usage of laxatives or diuretics to induce puking or diarrhea.
  • Obsession with quantities of food, physical appearance, body weight, and body image.

How can therapy help identify and treat eating disorders in teenagers?

A general physician, psychologist, or therapist can help diagnose eating disorders in teenagers. Parents can identify the initial changes and encourage their children to get a physical exam done.

Height and weight can be checked for comparison with health standards. If any changes are found in a physical exam doctors will suggest further tests like blood count, thyroid, and tests for nutritional deficiencies.

After a significant change in physical health is identified therapist can conduct a psychological evaluation, including identifying unhealthy patterns of behavior regarding food, eating habits, exercise habits, and sense of body image.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be extremely helpful in treating eating disorders in teenagers. A variety of techniques like meal planning, cognitive restructuring, self-monitoring, and developing a healthy relationship with food can help a teenager associate their physical health with keeping themselves healthy and not just looking a certain way.

Nutritional therapy by a registered dietician or nutritionist can help treat eating disorders in teenagers by developing a healthy meal planning system and motivating the teenagers to follow the plan regularly.

Family-based therapy can be introduced. Eating disorders in teenagers can be easily identified in the immediate environment by family members. So, involving family during the treatment can also help the teenager cope and respond effectively to treatment. The family is encouraged to provide meal support and help the teenager develop a healthy relationship with food.

Psychological and nutritional therapy is extremely effective once the parents and child are aware of the condition. A therapist can help the teenager cope and not use food as a defense mechanism. There could be several reasons for the development of eating disorders. An unhealthy expectation, and obsession with looking a certain way, along with the stigma associated with gaining a little extra weight, are a few factors that contribute to the development of these disorders. If you think your child might be suffering from an eating disorder, consult a therapist on nutritionist as soon as possible to get them the help day desperately need.

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