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What To Do When You Suspect An Eating Disorder in Your Teen

What To Do When You Suspect An Eating Disorder in Your Teen | Paradigm Malibu

In some areas of the country, eating disorders are just as pervasive as teen drug use and unsafe sexual activity. Teens tend to engage in risky behavior; it’s typical of adolescence. However, when teens begin to sacrifice their health for looking good, acceptance by their peers, and even self-acceptance, their lives could be at risk.


In fact, for some states around the country, eating disorders are becoming a major concern. For this reason, it’s important that teens and parents are educated about what eating disorders are, their symptoms, and the damaging effect the illness can have on someone’s physical and psychological health.


There are three main types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Although an eating disorder will obviously have effects on the body, a teen’s psychological health is also impaired.


The following will list a description of each of these illnesses and then provide some tips for parents on what to do if they suspect an eating disorder in their teen.


Anorexia Nervosa

  • A refusal to maintain a body weight that is considered within a normal range for age and height.
  • An intense fear of gaining weight or being fat, even though the client is underweight.
  • There exists a disturbance in the way that the body is seen, such as a denial of the seriousness of a low body weight.
  • The absence of at least consecutive menstrual cycles.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Those with this disorder often begin with an intense desire to lose weight, which transforms into a morbid fear of gaining weight, to the point of endangering their life. Being thin is a way of exerting power and control, which becomes the most crucial and necessary task for survival, despite the fact that they are harming their body and losing their life as a result.


Bulimia Nervosa

  • 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.


In the initial stages of this disorder, the compensatory behavior, such as binging, is a way to ease the guilt from having eaten so much food. However, later it becomes a method of mood regulation.


Binge Eating Disorder

This disorder is characterized by the repeated experience of eating a large amount of food within a specific period of time, accompanied by a feeling of not being able to stop, or a lack of control.  Binge eating is also characterized by eating more rapidly than normal, eating alone, eating a large amount of food even despite not feeling hungry, eating until the body is uncomfortable, and feeling disgusted or guilty later.


With Binge Eating Disorder (BED) there is usually a pattern of binge eating at least 2 times per week for at least 6 months.


If you’re a concerned parent who suspects one of these three illnesses in your teen, the most important step to take is to contact a mental health professional. You might search for an eating disorder treatment center that focuses on this type of illness specifically. Often, these treatment centers will provide full services that address the many needs of a teen with an eating disorder.


The problem is that an Eating Disorder is a complex psychological and physical illness.  It requires attention on not only the physical aspect of the disorder, but also the psychological. At the start of treatment, a doctor is required to monitor the severe medical consequences that come with the illness and a therapist is required to treat the psychological aspect of the disorder. Later, as treatment continues, a nutritionist is needed to coach a teen on how to have a healthier relationship with food and eating.


Parents, if there is not an eating disorder treatment center in your neighborhood, be sure to contact a therapist as well as a doctor to address your teens immediate needs. You should know that the health consequences of eating disorders are serious. Getting help for your teen right away could save his or her life.

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