Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

Eating disorders affect millions of children and teens every day. An eating disorder is any unusual behavior or strange eating habit. Most teens develop an eating disorder between the ages of 13-18. The main causes of eating disorders include peer pressure, social situations, and stress. Teens that have eating disorders see themselves as overweight and have unhealthy images of them. Some people believe the media has a lot to do with how teens view themselves, since they are easily impressionable by images of beauty and perfection in magazines and television.

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Types of Eating Disorders

The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. However, there are a few other types that are less common, but still affect teens:

  • Anorexia: Teens who have anorexia refuse to eat enough and are constantly afraid of weight gain. They are clearly underweight.
  • Bulimia: Bulimia is when teens consume large amounts of food and then attempt to prevent weight gain by vomiting.
  • Purge Eating: Purge eating occurs when teens self-induce vomiting, but do not binge eat before.
  • Night Eating Syndrome: This occurs when teens consume large amounts of food at night, either because they feel they are restricted during the day and do not get enough food, or because they are ashamed to eat in front of others.

Signs Your Child Suffers from an Eating Disorder

Anorexia: Teens who suffer this are clearly underweight. They are overly obsessed with their physical appearance and eat less to stay at what they see as a healthy weight. Teens that are anorexic do not have the ability to understand they are severely underweight or understand the health problems it causes.

Bulimia: Teens who are bulimic are more difficult to identify than anorexic teens. Priest Weems, a self development advisor, says, “generally, teens who are bulimic are normal weight, and in some cases, overweight. Bulimic teens are generally ashamed of their eating habits and try to hide their binge eating“. These leads to night eating or even purge eating.

The best way to identify if your child is suffering from an eating disorder is to know your child. Watch what they eat, and make sure they eat enough, but do not over eat. If your child seems to want to eat alone, this could be a warning sign they suffer from an eating disorder.

How to Help

  1. The best way to prevent or help a teen with an eating disorder is to talk to them. Encourage them to be healthy, but not perfect. Help them to see that many of the images they see with people in perfect bodies are not true, and that they don’t have to be like them.
  2. Know your children. If you see them acting strange, it could be the first sign of an eating disorder or another mental health problem. Encourage your child to talk with you when they are feeling stressed because of social situations and school.
  3. Talk to your doctor. They can help you better understand eating disorders and how your child may be affected by them. They’ll also point you in the right direction to getting help for your child.