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The Medical Consequences of Teen Eating Disorders

It’s Time to Know About Teen Body Dysmorphic Disorder – Part Two- Paradigm Malibu

Women and specifically female teens are vulnerable to eating disorders. They are serious diseases that aren’t a fad or a trend or a thing to do in order to lose weight. These are diseases that arise from a dysfunctional psychological condition with medical consequences.


The roots of a teen eating disorder begin with a preoccupation to how you look, which influences your appetite, food choices, and food limitations. You might want to stay under 150 pounds, for instance, and so you don’t eat the chocolate cake for dessert or the extra pancake. Yet, when those preoccupations become obsessions, they might become a disturbance in the mind; it might become an obsession.


Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that you cannot get out of your head. For many of us, unwanted thoughts come and go and we’re able to move on to more life-affirming, positive thinking. For others, however, unwanted thoughts might continue again and again until that is all you think about. This can become true with an eating disorder. What started out as a simple diet, a way to lose a couple pounds, can become an obsession with losing weight and staying thin.


When a simple diet turns into an eating disorder, there are psychological and physical dangers to know about, especially if you’re concerned that your son or daughter might have an eating disorder. When there is a disturbance in the natural process of the body and a teen responds to those responses, there might be a mental illness.


With teen eating disorders, it is not so much the appetite that is disturbed, as it is control (Anorexia Nervosa) or lack of control (Bulimia Nervosa) over what they eat.


An adolescent might have an intense need to be thin and so severely limit their food intake. This is the case with those who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, a mental illness of eating too little. Others might have no control over the amount of food they take in, such as in binge eating, and then feel guilty about it later. Bulimia is a disorder in which there is a period of binge eating and that is followed by vomiting.


However, severely controlling or losing the ability to control food intake leads to physical consequences. For instance, with too little food in the body, the muscles and the tissues start to break down. An adolescent with Anorexia Nervosa moves through cycles of self-starvation, denying the body essential nutrients it needs to function normally. The body is forced to slow down all of its processes in order to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences. For instance, with Anorexia Nervosa:


  • The heartbeat reduces to a very slow rate, causing low blood pressure and changes in the muscle of the heart. There is risk for heart failure as the blood pressure become lower and lower.
  • Because of lack of nutrients the bone density weakens leading to Osteoporosis.
  • There is muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration can cause kidney failure
  • Because of overall weakness, there is fainting and fatigue.
  • The dehydration causes dry hair and skin and there is excessive hair loss.
  • Tendency to get cold easily.
  • Hair might begin to grow on the body, a condition called lanugo, which happens as a way to keep the body warm.


With Bulimia Nervosa, the medical consequences are slightly different because of the binging and purging that happens with this disorder. The dysfunctional cycle between binging on food and then purging it affects the digestive system. Electrolytes are lost and there are severe chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.  Some of the medical consequences of Bulimia Nervosa include:


  • There is a significant electrolyte imbalance which in turn can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and even death.
  • The overeating causes severe dehydration and the purging leads to loss of potassium, sodium, and chloride, and this causes the electrolyte imbalance.
  • There is a potential for gastric rupture during periods of binging.
  • There might be inflammation and even rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay can occur as well as staining from the stomach acids that are released during frequent vomiting.
  • Because teens with this disorder tend to use laxatives as a way compensate for their binging, he or she might experience irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.


The health consequences to both of these disorders are serious. Sadly, teen eating disorders are for the most part still under the radar of the mainstream. Most doctors, for instance, would likely not be able to detect an eating disorder if a teen came into his or her office with the symptoms listed above. Yet, with public education, perhaps professionals in the health community will become knowledgeable about these disorders and facilitate saving more lives.




Health Consequences of Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorder Association. Retrieved on May 7, 2014 from: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences-eating-disorders



By Robert Hunt
If you are reading this on any blog other than Paradigm Malibu or via my RSS Feed, it is stolen content without credit.
You can find me on Twitter via @RecoveryRobert
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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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