February 26 to March 4, 2018, is National Eating Disorders Week. This is an international event where various organizations work together to raise awareness about common eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. The theme of this year’s event is “Let’s Get Real,” and it will focus on raising awareness, dispelling myths and stigmas surrounding eating disorders, screening individuals for these diseases, and encouraging people to get treatment.
Paradigm treatment centers work with young people who struggle with these eating disorders. Many of these disorders co-occur with other mental health conditions. Our treatment centers strive to help adolescents get to the bottom of why they have developed an eating disorder; simply focusing on behavior is not enough of a catalyst to effect long-term change throughout the ups and downs of life.
One of the ways that National Eating Disorders Week participants will be working within the community is by addressing some of the myths and misconceptions related to eating disorders. Here are a few common myths that many parents, educators, and others in the community might believe:
Eating Disorders Lead to Extreme Weight Loss
Many parents will not suspect an eating disorder if their teenager is not dangerously thin. This is a common misconception. While anorexia nervosa often causes significant weight loss, bulimia often does not. Binge-eating disorder generally causes weight gain. Many parents don’t worry about a teen’s strange behavior around food (rituals, refusing to eat certain types of foods) if they can’t see visible signs of malnutrition, such as weight loss.
Rituals and Fad Diets Are Just a Phase
Teens do sometimes go through phases when it comes to eating. For example, many adolescents experiment with vegetarianism or veganism during the teen years. However, strict fad diets and rituals surrounding foods are warning signs that something is wrong. An adolescent who eats only a handful of different foods, who will go out of his or her way to avoid eating carbs, or who must chew each mouthful a specific number of times can be on the path toward disordered eating.
Any Good Parent Would Notice If Their Child Had an Eating Disorder
Teens who are struggling with an eating disorder will often go to great lengths to hide it from their parents. For example, they might wear bulky clothing to disguise weight loss. They might be careful to hide the wrappers from food consumed during a binge. Girls who have stopped having their menstrual periods might continue to take and discard feminine hygiene products to avoid having their parents asking questions about why they’re not menstruating. Particularly if a parent has voiced concern about eating habits, an adolescent could be careful enough to hide an eating disorder for long enough that it seriously impacts his or her health.
Teens With Eating Disorders Just Need to Be Told That They Look Fine
Some parents think that eating disorders are a behavioral issue and don’t see that it’s a mental health issue. They might not understand that teens with eating disorders often (but not always) have a distorted sense of self. Many teenagers (and adults) will complain that they “look fat,” but the thinking that accompanies an eating disorder can go far beyond that. There are cases of emaciated teens whose disorders caused them to think that they still needed to lose weight.
Addressing the myths surrounding eating disorders is an important part of this year’s “Let’s Get Real” campaign. Please contact Paradigm Treatment Centers if you are concerned about a young person in your life who might have an eating disorder or if you would like more information.
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.