Whether due to an influx of social media input, wispy-thin models gracing the cover of magazines for decades, social pressure or all of the above, there's no denying that eating disorders among teens has become an epidemic in America. Roughly half a million teens struggle with disordered eating or full-blown eating disorders, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry, and it's not just the girls that are being affected, either. Although eating disorders have long been thought of as a predominantly female disorder, disordered eating and eating disorders are affecting teen boys at an alarming rate, as well. If you're a parent who's concerned about the possibility that your child may be battling an eating disorder, there are eight signs you should look out for. Keep reading to learn the warning signs every parent should know.
The first sign that your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder is somewhat obvious, but often dismissed by parents as normal teenage behavior. If you notice your teen is counting calories, focusing on weight loss or weight gain or taking an intense interest in food (specifically nutritional information), this can be a big warning sign that an eating disorder is on the horizon. Second, and often seen alongside the first warning sign, is a sudden and intense interest in exercise and fitness. When workouts seem excessive or occur at strange times during the day, beware. This could be a sign that your teen is struggling to drop weight quickly. A third warning sign is that your teen has dropped a noticeable amount of weight in a short amount of time. While minor weight fluctuations can be normal in teens, these should be slight and occur over a longer period of time. The fourth sign is the appearance of abnormal physical symptoms, such as the loss of a period, dizziness, complaints of always being cold, thinning hair, swollen cheeks, increase in cavities and unexplained stomach pain.
The fifth warning sign to watch out for is the development of food "rituals," including taking tiny bites of food or rearranging food on the plate to make it appear that more has been eaten than has been. Sixth, if your teen suddenly adopts a very restrictive diet, beware. Many teens struggling with eating disorder behavior will suddenly become vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc., which is often a way for them to limit food intake by claiming they can no longer eat what's offered. A seventh sign is isolation from friends and activities your teen used to enjoy. This is often done to avoid situations where food will be present, such as meals out with friends or parties where food will be offered. Finally, the eighth sign your teen may be battling an eating disorder is negative talk about his or her appearance, especially body shape or size. While most teens struggle with body image, a teen struggling with an eating disorder may see things that aren't really there when they look at their body, and claim they are "fat" when they are really a normal weight or even underweight.
If you notice one or more of the above warning signs in your teen, talk to your teen and seek help from a qualified mental health professional that specializes in eating disorder behavior, so a full assessment can be done and appropriate treatment recommended. As with most conditions, early treatment usually offers more promising outcomes, though eating disorders can be successfully treated at almost any stage with an appropriate level of care.
Still not sure if your teen may be suffering from an eating disorder? Take the following quiz to find out.