Eating Disorders and Teens
One’s teenage years can be a very confusing and frustrating time in one’s life as this time period is typically designated for one’s transitioning from the role of a child to that of an adult. Teens more so than any other age group struggle with self-esteem issues, fitting in with their peers, ascribing to societies perception of beauty, etc. Eating disorders in teens cause serious changes in eating habits that can potentially lead to major, even life threatening health problems.
Eating disorders can be categorized into 3 distinct groups that include:
Anorexia, which is categorized by an obsessive need to control one’s calorie intake by refusing to eat foods with a high calorie content. Individuals suffering from anorexia have an irrational fear of becoming fat.
Bulimia is categorized as an individual’s propensity to overeat (binge eating) then purging the body by excessive vomiting or the use of laxatives. Vomiting allows the individual to “trick” the body into feeling full without the having to consume “unnecessary calories” or a strong desire to avoid gaining weight.
Bing eating is categorized by gorging rapidly, however this is done without purging.
Potential Causes of Eating Disorders:
Extreme anxiety or distress
Obsessive fear of becoming overweight or becoming unattractive
Desire to fit into societies perception of beauty
Wanting to fit in with peers
Distorted body imaging
In an effort to cope with or mitigate some of these negative feelings a teen may develop harmful eating habits. During one’s teenage years there is often the need to control the only thing they feel is within their control, their bodies. Eating disorders are often not an isolated issue but one that is developed in response to other psychiatric issues such as, depression, anxiety, etc.
Dangers of Eating Disorders:
Declining health or failure adequately fight off illnesses
Dental issues/damage to tooth enamel (especially for those suffering from bulimia)
Damage to major organs
Sensitivity to cold
Low blood pressure
Eating Disorders & Treatment
Treatment of eating disorders should initially focus on restoration to normal weight, eating habits, and overall health if possible. Psychological issues should be addressed next by both identifying and isolating the issues fueling and maintaining the disorder. Psychological treatment can include, individual and family therapy, support groups, psychotropic medications, and behavioral therapy.
Jessica is a 16-year-old female in her sophomore year of high school. Like all other teens in her age group Jessica struggles with maintaining a positive self-image about her body. However, unlike other teens she has become obsessed with her body image, perceiving herself as being overweight even as others have insisted she is not. Jessica has become envious of the head cheerleader in her school, she is thinner than Jessica, and appears to be adored by the whole school. One night after watching a movie at home, Jessica catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror and immediately became disgusted with her appearance. Feeling disgusted by having eaten 2 slices of pizza she goes into the bathroom and begins to try and purge the “unhealthy” food from her body through vomiting. Feeling euphoric after getting this food out of her body she begins to eat excessively then purge after eating. This cycle of purging has become a regular and consistent practice of Jessica’s. Jessica’s parents notice the changes in her appearance but have not acknowledged the changes to their daughter. Although, her parents have observed the physical changes in her appearance (thinner frame, ruddy complexion, thinning hair) as well as dentition issues such as weak and fracturing teeth, each assumes this is phase of life that will pass, and fearing insulting their daughter. Should the parents continue to avoid addressing the changes in their daughter’s appearance? Should they intervene?