Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia very often begin in adolescence, but they are also very often a teen’s biggest secret.
Many teens will go to great lengths to hide their disordered eating, so parents may not realise that there is a problem until after it has taken hold.
When confronted, teens may well deny that they need help but this does not mean that parents should take these statements at face value.
Any parent concerned about teens and eating disorders should learn the warning signs and how to find help if needed.
Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder
Though disordered eating may manifest itself in any combination of warning signs, there are some typical clues to eating disorders. Very often teens suffering from eating disorders will display:
- Critical views of one’s body
- Excessive concern about weight and appearance
- Excessive concern about calories and fat content in all foods
- Dramatic weight loss in a short period of time
- A habit of wearing loose or baggy clothing to hide the body
- Constant discussions about food and/or weight
- Lying about food and eating
- Inability to eat in front of others
- Refusal to eat certain foods or food groups
- Refusal to eat at all
- Food rituals such as cutting food into small pieces, pushing food around the plate, etc.
- Throwing up after eating
- Using the bathroom immediately after eating – and possibly flushing more than once (clues that vomiting may have occurred)
- Eating an excessive amount in one sitting
- Smelling like vomit
- Scarring on the knuckles (fingers may have been used to induce vomiting)
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes (due to vomiting)
- Sore throats and/or dental problems (due to vomiting)
- Taking diet pills, water pills or laxatives in an attempt to lose or keep off weight
- Excessive exercising
- Weight loss to the point that menstrual periods cease
- Interest in web sites glamourising or “helping” eating disorders
- Interest in books or magazine articles about eating disorders
- Loss of interest in social and/or romantic situations
- Mood swings
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Drinking excessive amounts of water
- Constantly chewing gum or eating sugar free sweets
- Hiding food
- Consistently feeling cold
- Hair loss
- Dry or grey complexion
- Denial of any “quirky” or disordered eating styles
Finding Help for an Eating Disorder
If you know a teen who displays any or any combination of, the above warning signs for an eating disorder then finding help is essential. Support is readily available in the UK. Be sure to contact:
- The teen’s school, as the guidance counsellor or another member of staff may have local treatment information
- Your GP, who may then recommended a specialist or therapist
- Private clinics, therapists and/or self-help groups in your community
- Reading library, community centre and church notice boards are often a great way of finding out about your local community, as is reading local newspapers
- The Youthline at the Eating Disorders Association (0845 634 7650)
Unfortunately eating disorders have become fairly common in today’s teens. Some estimates place that as many as one in four teen girls has an eating disorder, and even more diet on a regular basis.
Boys too may suffer from eating disorders, and though the statistics may be lower that does not mean that the individual cases are any less harmful.
If you suspect your teen of having an eating disorder, seek help immediately. Remember, your teen’s life might just depend upon it.