Growing pressures in society to be fit, thin, and camera ready at all times are taking a toll on today's young people. If the cultural norms that value appearance over well-being have led to an eating disorder for someone you love, then they may be in need of teen eating disorder treatment.
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating and may also involve excessive exercise and other extreme behaviors relating to food.
Research shows that early identification and intervention are key components to successfully treating eating disorders. Parents and families who have observed shifts in teen behavior and those who have concerns about their teen’s relationship with eating, weight, or exercise should contact their pediatrician or family doctor.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Children and Teens
Because each child is different and each human body develops on a unique timeline, it can be hard to recognize eating disorders in teens. Some adolescents may not express their frustrations or concerns about their body image. Yet, other teens may openly make comments or create social media posts about “feeling fat”, or they may be super-focused on dieting and wanting to lose weight unnecessarily. The truth is, adolescents with an eating disorder may often look no different than their peers. Therefore, parents and families must rely on their observations of changes in behavior, which can include:
- Changes in Eating Patterns and Behaviors. This can be when a child or teen starts to refuse certain foods or works to avoid social situations where food may be involved. Others may be eating secretly or alone or using the bathroom directly after meals. We encourage parents to use the behavior change as a window of opportunity to ask their child what has changed for them. Here are some tips on how to talk to someone about eating disorders.
- Body Comparison. Comparison is a normal part of development, and most kids start comparing themselves to others by third grade. However, if you’ve noticed that your child’s comparisons impact their self-esteem, confidence, and ability to engage in life, they may be struggling with body image concerns, which warrants a closer look by a licensed professional.
Other warning signs of an eating disorder:
- “Picky eaters”
- Weight fluctuations
- Changes in mood and eating habits (for example, avoiding certain food groups to promote weight loss)
- Cutting out/Avoiding certain foods/food groups (for purposes of weight loss)
- Changes in exercise patterns
- Change in mood or behavior
- Following social media influence(r)s that may promote disordered eating
- Changes in the type of clothing worn
- Isolating after meals
- Using electronic devices to monitor their nutrition intake
- Cold intolerance
- Refusing to have social meals
- Leaving meals for the bathroom
- Increased fatigue
- Changes in exercise patterns
- Avoiding eating meals with others
- Using food to cope with distressing emotions
- Changes in exercise patterns
- Hiding food
- Using the bathroom immediately following a meal
Exhibiting one or more of these behaviors does not necessarily mean a young person has an eating disorder, but they are warning signs. If you notice any of these, consider a conversation with your child and pediatrician.
What Causes Eating Disorders in Children and Teens?
There isn’t one specific event or independent thing that causes someone to develop an eating disorder. Instead, eating disorders develop from a perfect storm of biological, psychological, and social factors.
Like adults, adolescents face many challenges every day – both the outward, visible struggles and the internal, unseen battles. A child may be the victim of bullying, may be battling constant anxious thoughts, or may feel uncomfortable about how their body is changing and developing.
For example, if a kid is bullied about their weight, they may change their eating habits in an effort to be thinner. The problem in this example is the bullying, while the “solution” is changing eating behavior. Unfortunately, this type of problem-solving may lead to disordered eating.
We often tell adolescents that they’ve done nothing wrong by developing an eating disorder. They simply tried to solve their own problem, and unfortunately, they created another one instead.
No one develops an eating disorder because they want to.
It’s no one’s fault.
Some cultural factors that can contribute to eating disorders are:
- Social Media Influence: There is growing evidence showing a link between how much a teen uses social media and their personal concerns about their body image.Filters are used daily to touch-up and enhance images to make them look “ideal”. As a teen compares the way they look to the idealized images seen on social media, they may have difficulty respecting and appreciating the aspects of their own developing body. Also, teens can become anxious and distracted by an unhealthy link to the number of “likes” they get and their perceived self-worth.We encourage families to take an active role in their child’s social media presence to be aware of what they’re seeing and who influences them.
- Genetics. Like many other illnesses, mental illness – including eating disorders – is more prevalent in adolescents and teens who have close family members with mental health concerns. It doesn’t have to be a shared connection of an eating disorder, but can include depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, substance abuse, or a history of trauma.
- Bullying. No one wants to be bullied. When adolescents are bullied about their weight, shape, and size, they often try to solve the problem by changing the way they look so the bullying stops. To take away the perceived “power” of the bully, the child may change the way they eat, look, dress, play, or behave. Over time, these changes can contribute to developing an eating disorder.
Whatever the cause, recovery is possible.
Our teen eating disorder treatment helps teens recover to live happy, fulfilling lives.
The “SCOFF” questionnaire assesses the signs of anorexia and bulimia.
Consider these five simple questions:
- Do you make yourself Sick because you are uncomfortably full?
- Do you feel you have lost Control over how much you eat?
- Have you recently lost One stone (6.35 kg or 14 pounds) or more in one month?
- Do you believe you are Fat despite others telling you that you are (too) thin?
- Would you say Food dominates your life?
If you answered YES to two or more of these questions, it’s time to contact us. We are here to help you regain control of your – and your child’s – lives.
We’re Here for You and Your Child
It can be difficult to know when teen eating disorder treatment is needed. While changes to the human body are natural and expected parts of development and growth, it can often be a very uncomfortable time for many adolescents and their families.
We believe that families do not cause eating disorders, but do play an essential role in supporting recovery. Our treatment programs also provide support for family members caring for and encouraging their loved ones in recovery.
Our teen eating disorder treatment program is designed to reach young people where they are. Our flexible treatment options allow them to continue to be a kid by attending school and social events by staying at home while also receiving treatment. Modeled after our adult Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for eating disorders, our dynamic treatment team is here to help.
Don’t wait. Research shows that early identification and intervention are key to successfully treating eating disorders.