teen with eating disorder

Eating Disorders: The Battle in Teens and How to Prevent It

September 18, 2018

An eating disorder can take a devastating toll on a teenager, especially for girls. Quite often, during the struggle that the teen is engaged in, a family becomes embroiled in conflict, struggle, and pain as they acknowledge the problem and seek solutions for their suffering family member. In order to protect your child from the dangers that an eating disorder pose to their physical, mental, and emotional health, it is essential to know what to look for and what to do when you see signs that an unhealthy relationship with food has begun.

Why Do Teens Fall Victim To Eating Disorders?

A root cause of an eating disorder in teens is low self-esteem; these budding young adults are very susceptible to things such as societal pressure, thoughts, and opinions of others, and even personal characteristics that make it even more likely that an issue will develop. Let’s unpack these before looking for signs and symptoms:

  1. Societal pressure – Today’s media-obsessed culture places an emphasis on being thin, youthful, and beautiful for as long as possible. The images portrayed to our children are quite unhealthy and unrealistic in nature; we must stress to our children that the images that they desire to emulate are not realistic pictures of what healthy looks like. Teach them to appreciate their own uniqueness, talents, and abilities, and move the emphasis away from the¬†physical appearance.
  2. Favorite activities – There might be an emphasis on looking or being lean in order to participate in a favorite activity, such as athletics, dancing, or modeling. Pressure from mentors, coaches, and teachers plays a role in how children see themselves. Make sure that the messages they are hearing are positive and proactive to build their self-esteem.
  3. Personal characteristics – Certain genetics or other biological factors may make individuals prone to the development of an eating disorder. In addition, people with personality characteristics such as perfectionism, high anxiety, and depression might be predisposed to the development of disorders.

Early Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Being able to recognize trouble when it starts is key to reducing your child’s chances of developing an eating disorder. Parents need to be alert to certain behavioral changes and rituals that pop up around food and meals. Some of these signs and symptoms include:

  • Eating in secret, skipping meals and making excuses for their behavior
  • Excessive obsession with food, either avoidance or need for control
  • Persistent worries about being fat or overweight
  • A growing obsession and criticism about appearance
  • Abuse of laxatives or diuretics
  • An obsession with the need to exercise
  • Binge eating
  • Using the bathroom right after meals, often for long periods of time
  • Expressing disgust or shame over their perceived eating habits

If any of these signs and symptoms are present in your child, you need to know how to approach the subject so as to keep the lines of communication open between you. Communication and care are necessary components to combating this devastating condition.

An Ounce of Prevention

Being proactive about communication and educating your child on the dangers of food addiction and abuse will help prevent issues from happening. Here are some simple things to keep in mind while keeping the lines of communication open:

  1. Encourage and model healthy eating habits. Children learn by watching and listening to their parents. If you model a healthy relationship with nutritious food, they will most likely follow suit. Have conversations around how foods affect health, and encourage them to eat when they are hungry. Eat meals together as a family, and learn to love creating a healthier lifestyle for all of you.
  2. Address media mayhem and promote healthy body image. Talk to your child about the unhealthy portrayals of youth, health, and beauty that exist in the media. Model a positive body image, and build your child’s self-esteem in ways that focus on inner character and development, not just physical appearance.
  3. Share the dangers of dieting, emotional eating, and food addiction. Talk to your child about the consequences that arise from food abuse and unhealthy eating patterns. Give them clear examples of how unhealthy relationships with food affect their overall physical health and well-being. Promote healthy relationships with food by putting things in perspective and creating healthy, connected relationships with friends and family. People who feel that they have a support system in place are less likely to develop unhealthy relationships around food and other substances.

How to Deal With Identified Eating Disorders

Providing help and support for your child who may have developed an eating disorder will be instrumental to his/her success. While much of the work must be done individually to heal and develop new, healthy patterns and relationships with food, it will be necessary to seek treatment to address the disorder. Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center is an inpatient treatment facility for mental health, behavioral health and addiction issues. They cater exclusively to teens and their families, and they have a consistent record of success and satisfied clients over several years of service to the community.

Hillcrest provides help and support to everyone struggling with your child’s eating disorder. We will work with you to design a program that instills hope and a brighter future for you and your family. Contact us today for more information on how we can help build a brighter tomorrow.