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Why Do Teens Develop Eating Disorders? & What Can We Do To Treat Them?

Teen Post Traumatic Stress Disorder | ParadigmMalibu.com

Eating Disorders are a complex disorder. They involve both the psychological and physical parts of one’s life. They are disorders that use the body as a means for working out issues surrounding power and control. In this way, eating disorders are a version of an addiction, which is founded upon a feeling of powerlessness.


When a teen feels powerless, he or she might attempt to seek a sense of power and control outside of themselves, either through drugs, drinking, or eating. However, there are many reasons factors that contribute to this disorder, five of which are listed below.




Interestingly, eating disorders are found exclusively in developed countries around the world. Of the mental illnesses outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are two that are the most culturally defined. For women, there is a strong social emphasis placed on looking good, and that means being thin. Sadly, her sense of self worth and self-acceptance is heavily influenced by the measurements of her chest and hips as well as the amount of body fat she carries. Unfortunately, looking good can have a higher priority for her than her physical and psychological health.


In fact, a study was done in Fiji researching how the recent presence of the media has made its impact on the South Pacific culture. The study observed Fijian adolescent girls dramatically change their attitude toward their bodies and their sense of self after television was introduced.




Although the psychological tendencies listed below are typical for those with teen eating disorders, it should be noted that psychological traits do not happen in a vacuum. Culture plays a significant role in the psychology of teens. This is particularly true during adolescence where a teen may be deriving their sense of self-acceptance through the acceptance of their peers, which is often based on appearance.


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


Female teens, in particular, are at the most risk for developing eating disorders. Of course, male adolescents and adults can also develop the disorder. They too are not strangers to social expectations for looking thin. But eating disorders are more common among females, and the onset for eating disorder as well as for body image disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder, occurs during adolescence.




Those with teen eating disorders tend to have lower levels of certain chemicals in the brain, which regulate appetite, mood, sleep, and stress. Those with Anorexia and Bulimia have higher levels of the stress hormone Cortisal. And similar to depression, those with eating disorders tend to have the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine function abnormally. Researchers are beginning to see a connection between depression and eating disorders, given that they have similar biochemical symptoms. Lastly, the hormone vasopressin is also found to be at abnormal levels in those with eating disorders. This is a hormone that is involved in the obsessive behavior that is found in those with eating disorders.




Studies reveal that genetics can predispose those to teen eating disorders, and that they can run in the family. There appear to be specific chromosomes that have been linked to bulimia and anorexia, which can be passed down generationally.




Of course, there may be a circumstantial factors contributing to the development of an eating disorder such as a period of high stress, a death in the family, history of physical or sexual abuse, peer pressure, being bullied because of one’s weight, participation in a sport that emphasizes thinness, and family or relationship problems.


Treating eating disorders are complex, but it can begin with therapy. Both individual and group therapy have been effective treatment methods. Therapy should focus on the thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that are contributing to the psychological illness and make efforts to change them. Psychotropic medication can be used to manage any concurrent anxiety or depression.


If you suspect an eating disorder in your teen, take into consideration the full range of your child’s behavior, such as life circumstances, mood, and the way that he or she is responding to food and his or her body. If you feel that an evaluation or scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional is in order, don’t hesitate to do gain the support of a therapist or psychologist.



By Robert Hunt
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