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Glossary of Teen Eating Disorder Symptoms – Part Two

Teen Eating Disorder Symptoms | ParadigmMalibu.com

In the first article to this series, a list of teen eating disorders symptoms was provided. This article will continue with that list with emphasis on the many ways that this illness can consume a teen’s life. It’s easy to generalize eating disorders and say that they are all about either controlling (Anorexia) food intake or lacking control (Bulimia) over eating. However, there are so many thought patterns, obsessions, beliefs, and ideas that go into that control or lack of control.


Understanding the underlying dimensions of the disorder in your loved one can facilitate healing. It can facilitate getting a better handle on what it means to recover. Thus, the list of symptoms continue:


Body Checking: This is the obsessive way that an adolescent relates to his or her body and appearance. This might look like frequent weighing, looking in the mirror, pinching the stomach or other parts of the body, or asking for assurance about their weight. Body checking can happen frequently throughout the day and can even become a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


Chewing & Spitting: This is another compulsive habit, which includes chewing up food and then spitting it out. It often occurs in the context of a binge and aims to satisfy cravings – often sweet, high calorie, and forbidden foods – without putting on potential weight. Continued Chewing & Spitting can lead to a number of medical issues as well as Oral Expulsion Syndrome.


Cognitive Distortions: These are the inaccurate thoughts and ideas that characterize eating disorders as well as any addiction. They are often identified during therapy in order to change or replace them with more positive thoughts. The cognitive distortions that are common with addictions include overgeneralization, selective attention, arbitrary inferences, magnification, minimization, “should” statements, labeling, and personalization.


Denial: This is the inability to recognize one’s illness. This is one of the ways that an eating disorder continues to maintain itself and is another example of a cognitive distortion. Forms of denial include resisting treatment, not acknowledging the illness, refusal or an inability to recognize health risks of eating habits, and minimization of symptoms.


Dishonesty: Like having an addiction with a large amount of denial, teens with eating disorders will participate in deception having to do with food, eating habits, exercise, and the use of laxatives. The dishonesty stems from denial about having a disorder and should be seen as a symptom versus a reason not to trust a teen. Many therapists will help an adolescent externalize the disease in order to facilitate seeing it from a distance. Although it’s easy to distrust a teen with an eating disorder, often those trust issues will center on food, eating and exercise.


Eating Rituals: Some teens might engage in eating rituals which when interrupted might cause great anxiety. These rituals before eating can include: weighing and measuring food, eating specific foods in a particular order, eating out of a particular plate or bowl, or cutting food into small pieces. Rituals are common with binge eating where a teen might develop a pattern of purchasing large amounts of food and then consume it in secrecy.


Environmental Triggers: Certain triggers in a teen’s environment can facilitate the expression of eating disorder. For instance cultural (a bias toward thinness), social (teasing or bullying), and competitive (athletics) factors have an influence on the development of an eating disorder. Stress and ill health can also bring on the disorder under the right circumstances.


Fear of Being Fat: This is common with Anorexic teens. It is an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat which is maintained by certain body image distortions, telling a client that her body is larger than it is. This fear is also evident in a teen’s preoccupation with weight, shape, appearance, food, eating, and calorie counting.


Forbidden Foods: This refers to those foods that an adolescent with an eating disorder has decided is off limits. It is a common symptom of the illness. These are often slowly eliminated from the diet as an eating disorder continues, such as fats, carbohydrates, meat, sweets, or junk food.


The above list is meant to be a learning tool, to recognize the symptoms of an eating disorder illness in yourself or others. Having a teen assessed for an eating disorder, if there are suspicious of one, is the first step towards treatment.





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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Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.

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