Eating disorders are both a physical and psychological disorder. They are a testament to how the mind and the body are related to each other. And they are very serious illnesses. They are disorders in which the patient uses the body as a means for implementing power and control. In this way, eating disorders are a version of an addiction, which is founded upon a feeling of powerlessness.
Teens with eating disorders typically:
- Have a low self-esteem
- Tend to have feelings of hopelessness
- Withdraw or isolate themselves
- Tend to exhibit perfectionism and obsession for achievement or accomplishment
- Can be addicted to playing sports or exercise
- Have low self-esteem, body hatred, or self-hatred
Although the psychological tendencies listed above are typical for teens with eating disorders, it should be noted that psychological traits do not happen in a vacuum. Culture, biochemistry (chemicals in the brain), genetics, and environment also play a significant role in the psychology of teens. The effects of culture and environment in particular play a significant role in the development of eating disorders for teens. Adolescence is a time when a teen may be deriving their sense of self-acceptance through the acceptance of their peers, which is often based on appearance.
To be diagnosed with Bulimia, a teen must exhibit the following symptoms:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating, that is, eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time with a strong lack of control and feelings of not being able to stop eating.
- Behavior that attempts to compensate for the overeating such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, frequent fasting, or excessive exercise.
There are two types of Bulimia. The first is the Purging Type, where an individual purges what he or she has eaten as a way to compensate for binge eating. The second is the absence of purging but uses other forms of compensatory behavior. Most adolescents who develop this disorder will typically do so between the ages of 17-21. However, it is not uncommon for a teen to develop Bulimia as early as age 11.
In addition to the psychological tendencies listed above, there are severe medical consequences of Bulimia Nervosa that need to be addressed. For instance, the dysfunctional cycle between binging on food and then purging 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 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 bingeing.
- 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 are serious. Teen Bulimia Nervosa treatment focuses on the compulsive tendencies towards eating, the inability to control intake of food, and the use of eating as a way to cope with underlying intense psychological issues and their related emotions.
If you think that you or someone you know might be using food as a way to manage anxiety or other challenging emotions or who exhibits patterns of disordered eating, speak with an adult you trust, such as a parent, counselor, therapist, or even a teacher. Getting support is the first step towards getting healthy again.
By Robert Hunt
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