This is the last of a three-part series on eating disorders. The articles presented here include a list of symptoms of eating disturbances. As pointed out in the first article it’s best for a teen not to identify with the illness itself. In a way, that can become an excuse to continue with dysfunctional habits. Instead, recognizing the symptoms for what they are can be a way to learn about the illness and discover the thoughts that keep the illness going.
As mentioned in the previous two articles, the following list is meant to be a learning tool:
Food Preoccupation: Interestingly, those with teen eating disorders will often spend a lot of time around food. They will watch cooking programs, look up recipes, shop for groceries, pack lunches for siblings or parents, and plan and prepare meals for the family. It’s a way to be around food without eating it. If the above practices aren’t taking place, some adolescents will hoard food, but won’t eat it. A common symptom of starvation is collecting food with non-food items with no intention of eating it.
Irritability: Excessive irritability is often experienced with anorexic and bulimic teens. It is commonly secondary to malnutrition and seen when the disorder has fully developed. Often, irritability is seen with anxious and depressed moods, social withdrawal, and preoccupation with food.
Ketosis: This is the process by which the body, which is suffering from a low intake of carbohydrates, converts stored fat into energy. During this conversion, ketones are produced as a by-product. With a continued experience of ketosis in the body, the acidity of the blood can change and there could be serious damage to the liver and kidneys.
Lactose Intolerance: This refers to one’s inability to digest milk and other dairy products. Although this type of intolerance is common among those without eating disorders, it is mentioned here for two reasons. First, teens might say that they are intolerant to dairy as a way to restrict their food intake. Secondly, this intolerance might actually develop as a response to inadequate food intake.
Lanugo: This is a condition where hair begins to grow on the body, which happens as a way to keep the body warm. This occurs with deep starvation and is a symptom of Anorexia Nervosa. Soft, fine light hair grows on the arms, chest, back, and face. It is a way of the body insulating itself to maintain body temperature as fat is being depleted.
Perfectionism: This is a character trait that can exist in those with or without eating disorders. However, this trait can predispose someone to an eating disorder, particularly Anorexia Nervosa. Perfectionism can also develop as a trait in someone who has a teen eating disorder.
Perseveration: This is a symptom of a variety of psychological illnesses, not only eating disorders. It is the tendency for a teen to perseverate on a certain phrase, word, or gesture. Anorexic and bulimic teens can experience this symptom when they become narrowly focused on a thought and become unable to change a pattern of thinking.
Purging: This is seen as a compensatory behavior, attempting to undo the calories just consumed. Variations of purging include self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, excessive exercise, and using enemas, colonics, and diuretics to get the body to purge any recently consumed food.
Restriction: This is the pattern of limiting food intake or eliminating certain food groups from one’s diet. Vegetarianism is sometimes seen as a restrictive behavior when anorexia nervosa develops as a result.
Vegan/Vegetarianism: A vegan is someone who does not eat animal products including meat or diary. A vegetarian does not eat meat, often due to cultural, spiritual, or health reasons. However, some teens might claim that they are either vegan or vegetarian as a way to limit their food intake. Often, for teens, this limitation might feel like a way to eat healthier. However, underneath there might be an unconscious desire to stay thin. A teen with a large amount of denial will see their choice to become vegetarian as a way to eat in a healthy way.
There are many ways that a teen eating disorder can reveal itself. Sadly, eating disorders are rooted in the dysfunctional relationship society has with food along with the images of thinness that are constantly portrayed in the media. Getting help begins with having a teen assessed for an eating disorder, if there are any suspicious of the illness. From there, treatment can begin.
Eating Disorders Glossary – Symptoms and Behavior. Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders. Retrieved on May 8, 2014 from: http://glossary.feast-ed.org/2-eating-disorders-symptoms-and-behaviors
By Robert Hunt
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