Teen Eating Disorder Treatment
When evaluating all of the potential teen eating disorder treatment options available, it is necessary to first define the various types of eating disorders. An eating disorder is a broad term that refers to any mental illness specifically related to food. The three most common eating disorders are: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eater Disorder.
Teen Anorexia Nervosa
Characterized by a person going to extreme lengths to lose weight, making efforts to eat as little as possible or nothing at all, in order to reduce calories. A person with Anorexia has a distorted image of their own body, often insisting they’re much heavier than they actually are. A person with Anorexia is obsessed with maintaining and controlling their weight and will go to great lengths to do so, but will also often deny the seriousness of their condition, insisting that they just want to be healthy or stay in shape. In severe cases, a person can be so insistent that their distorted image is accurate, causing them to lose weight to the point of it becoming life-threatening.
Teen Bulimia Nervosa
Also characterized by an obsession of body appearance and controlling weight, a person with Bulimia tries to maintain body weight by cycles of binging (eating an excessive amount of junk food) followed by purging (self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, enemas, or other means to rid the stomach of food.) During the binge period of the cycle, a person cannot stop eating, even after the stomach is full. Following the binge, a person often feels guilt and embarrassment over the calories and therefore has the urge to rid themselves of everything they ate by any means necessary, which can cause them to behave irresponsibly. Bulimia can also include cycles of binging and fasting, as well as excessive exercise. Often, a person with bulimia will deny any seriousness of their condition, but will nonetheless eat and binge in secret.
Binge Eating Disorder
A clinical syndrome characterized by a person regularly eating a large amount of food in a quick amount of time, with no control of when to stop, as well as eating without regard to hunger or need for food. A person often eats to address emotional feelings of unrest and/or as a means of avoiding another problematic or difficult part of life. A person with Binge Eating Disorder becomes obsessed with food and eating, regardless of feelings of hunger, but once they’ve eaten, often experience extreme feelings of embarrassment or guilt because of what they ate. This produces a sort of “cycling” effect, between the person feeling some slight relief from binging, followed by shame, which urges them to eat more, in order to improve their mood.
What It Looks Like
One of the challenges regarding Eating Disorders is they can be difficult to recognize and/or diagnose, especially if a person is intentionally trying to hide behaviors, which is fairly common. Furthermore, some of the underlying behaviors or beliefs of a person with an eating disorder are not singular to this illness, and so it can be hard to judge the seriousness of a person’s experience, and whether they need treatment.
Beyond the specific symptoms listed above related to each eating disorder, there are also a number of symptoms that are commonly present in a person with an eating disorder. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Distorted self body image
- Obsession with food in persistent thoughts and/or desires
- Refusal to eat when hungry
- Inability to stop eating when full
- For people with bulimia, teeth and gum problems related to vomiting, as well as stomach lining problems, such as ulcers
- Going to the bathroom often, immediately after meals
- Intense emotional shame or guilt after eating
- Obsession with exercise and control of weight
- Fear of eating in public, leading to secret eating/binging
- Extreme desire to control weight
Teen Eating Disorder Treatment Options
Because Eating Disorders are severe mental disorders that have significant effects on the mind and body, teen eating disorder treatment must address the mental and physical aspects of the disorder.
Teen eating disorder treatment needs to first address the physical condition by helping the person return to healthy eating habits and practices, regardless of what their comforts and urges are. Because this can be such a difficult transition for a person with an Eating Disorder, this is often most successfully carried out in a therapeutic setting where the person can be closely monitored and guided through the process. Depending on the specific disorder, a person will be monitored in different ways, geared toward their current misconceptions and unhealthy eating habits. In addition to diet, therapy also addresses any current habits or practices related to exercise and help modify them to be healthy. These foundational steps, crucial to a person’s physical well being, can then help lay the groundwork for a person to address the underlying causes and beliefs related to their Eating Disorder.
Therapy also addresses the underlying issues that cause the person to have such a distorted and unmanageable relationship to food, such as feelings of inadequacy, shame, lack of self-worth, anxiety, and/or stress surrounding a sense of a need for control. Though the misconceptions and beliefs that a person has in relation to their eating disorder can be deeply rooted, therapy can help them gain insight as to the falsity of their beliefs, understanding as to the danger of their eating habits, and also gain a sense of encouragement and self-worth to help them want to make healthy decisions and changes for themselves. This type of healing and change is especially possible when a person feels safe and un-judged, both for what they look like and their behaviors. In this regard, support from family and friends is a powerful force in allowing a person to move toward a happy, healthy life.
What if other people think I have an eating disorder, but I don’t?
It can be hard for any of us to see ourselves and our behaviors clearly, and even harder for us to admit if something’s wrong. Eating Disorders are an illness where people commonly hide their behaviors in order to convince others, and themselves, that everything’s fine. First of all, it’s important for you to know that if you do have an Eating Disorder, it’s not the end of the world and doesn’t mean someone else is going to take charge of your physical being. But if people around you who love you and whom you trust are worried you might have an Eating Disorder, it’s probably at least worth trying to think about honestly. If your life is somewhat consumed by your thoughts and behaviors surrounding food, if you exhibit some of the symptoms listed above, and/or if your behavior surrounding food is extremely different from the average person, you should try to be open to the idea that something more is going on.
What if it’s something I can control?
This is a common attitude among people with Eating Disorders and the trouble is, it’s true, but not for long. Often people with Eating Disorders start out developing some unhealthy habits but before long, the habits and beliefs spiral out of control to a point where the person is no longer seeing themselves or their behavior clearly. It may be true that for a certain amount of time, you might be able to “get away with” your Eating Disorder, but the longer you allow the behaviors and beliefs to go on, the more risk you’re putting yourself in, both physically and mentally, and the harder it will be to change, later on. It’s also important to understand that if your reason for not getting help is a fear of someone else to make decisions and have control over what you look like, this isn’t the goal of therapy. The goal of therapy is to be healthy, and there are great, supportive people who can help you get there.