In our current society, appearance and weight have become very real issues. Magazine covers display size zero models that send the message, “Look like this to be beautiful!” to the next generation.
If you are the parent of a teenager, you know just how far these messages go. The impact of what we consider attractive is leading countless young girls and boys to watch what they eat, to constantly weigh themselves, and to be hyper-aware of how they look almost all the time.
When a teenager looks in the mirror and sees something other than the size zero image reflected back, without proper tools and positive messages about self-esteem, a desire to lose weight and to look a certain way can begin to dominate a young person’s life.
Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that generally begin with subtle symptoms attributed to a changing pre-teen or teenager, so how can you identify the warning signs of an eating disorder in your son or daughter?
As you observe your teen, ideally in a subtle way, look for these 5 Symptoms of an Eating Disorder:
1. An Emotional Connection to Food or Eating
Does your daughter seem happy or even energized when skipping a meal, saying she already ate? Does your son seem remorseful after eating two plates worth of food at dinner?
Any emotional reactions to what you served for dinner or to the amount of food he or she consumed, either too little or too much for one sitting, can indicate a deeper problem.
2. Communication Cues
Does your teenager make what seem like meaningless comments about his or her own weight, or of the weight or appearance of others? Judgemental or not, communicating an awareness of differences in bodies can demonstrate an eating disorder.
With that, non-verbal communication is important to notice as well. Does your teen see a skinny woman and then seem to shrink a bit, trying to hide or cover up her own stomach, legs, or butt?
3. Excessive Exercise
Has your teen recently taken created a workout pattern that seems out of character?
Exercise is great when viewed as a way to stay healthy, but when running excessively in an effort to lose weight, for example, is taking up extreme amounts of time and energy, it serves as a sign of unhealthy and possibly eating disoder behavior.
4. Changes in Physical Appearance
Yes, your teenager is going through the changes that come with puberty, but also check for less obvious changes like thinning hair, patches of dry skin, yellowing teeth or skin, swollen cheeks, quick weight loss or gain, and brittle nails.
5. The Use of Substances
Laxatives and diet pills offer an easy way to lose weight. Light use can quickly progress to abuse and dependence, or addiction, without warning. To gain control of his or her image, teenagers will even try curbing their appetite with cocaine, Adderall, or other stimulants they hear about through friends.
If you find anything that points toward the use of any drugs, legal or not, seek help immediately. The co-occurrence of substance abuse and an eating disorder can quickly spiral out of control.
If you see any of these 5 warning signs of an eating disorder in your teen, help is available! Find out more now!
Jared Friedman is a quality improvement manager who helps people have their insurance cover treatment at Sovereign Health.