By Wesley Gallagher
The adolescent years are full of changes: bodily, hormonally, emotionally — you name it, it’s probably changing in your child. It can be difficult to know what’s what with your tween or teen. Is it a phase, is it a quirk, or is it an issue that needs to be addressed?
These constant changes can make it hard to notice the signs of eating disorders in adolescence. What seems like a new appreciation for health food could be the beginning of disordered eating. What looks like a new clothing style could be an attempt to hide weight loss or other bodily changes.
So what are the signs of eating disorders in adolescents, and how can you know when your child needs help?
Signs of Eating Disorders in Adolescence
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the lifetime prevalence of baseline eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder among adolescents ages 13-18 is 2.7%. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital estimates that 95% of people with eating disorders are ages 12-25, so adolescence is the time to start watching for warning signs.
Different eating disorders manifest in different ways, but there are some common warning signs to look for:
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Preoccupation with body image, looks, or weight
- Changes in eating patterns like refusing certain foods or to eat with others, going to the bathroom after eating, or hiding food
- Preoccupation with nutrition and calories or labeling foods as “good” and “bad”
- Changes in exercise patterns or a sudden interest in exercise
- Intense mood fluctuations or signs of depression, anxiety, or irritability
- Use of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills
With all the changes adolescence brings, it can be hard to discern what is normal and what should be concerning. You know your child better than anyone, and if you feel like something is off, trust your gut.
Causes of Eating Disorders in Adolescence
While we still don’t know exactly what causes eating disorders, we’ve come a long way in understanding them since the days of thinking it was all about being thin. We now understand that an eating disorder is a psychological disorder, like anxiety or depression. Genetics, biology, and environment are all believed to factor into their development.
There are certain causes or triggers that researchers believe lead to disordered eating in adolescents and teens. Some of these include:
- Hormones and Puberty
Adolescence is the perfect storm for eating disorder development because the body and brain are changing rapidly. Puberty changes body shape and size while the brain is becoming more aware of societal pressures. Body dissatisfaction and decreased self-esteem often result. A Hormones and Behavior study also found that hormones in puberty are likely to play a role in their development.
- Social Media
Much has been written about the connection between social media and eating disorders in adolescence. Research from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence revealed that social media use is associated with body image concerns, disordered eating, and body change behaviors in adolescents.
- Family Dynamics
Family dynamics can contribute to development of eating disorders in adolescents. In particular, rigidity, codependency, poor communication, and conflict avoidance in families are associated with disordered eating and unhealthy weight behaviors in children, according to Psychology Research and Behavior Development.
If your child shows signs of an eating disorder, address it as soon as you can. Early treatment leads to better outcomes and can prevent many of the health issues that come from eating disorders. Contact your pediatrician or family doctor to evaluate your child and help with next steps.
The Meadows Ranch is Here for Your Adolescent or Teen
Because of the unique nature of adolescent eating disorders, it’s important to find a facility that specializes in adolescent eating disorder treatment. Tweens and teens need a safe, nurturing environment as they work toward healing.
The Meadows Ranch has a long history of treating eating disorders in women and young girls between 11 and 17. Our home-like environment and ranch setting offer the ideal atmosphere for healing, where we provide evidence-based, individualized treatment. We also involve the family in our program, as we know their support on the path to recovery is crucial. Our goal is complete healing and sending our patients home with the tools and insights they need to live a healthy, full life. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.