There are many physical and emotional changes that occur during adolescence, and there are many ways that teens try to cope with these changes.
Some coping tools are functional and healthy, like journaling, crying it out, and talking to a trusted adult.
Sometimes teens try to cope with feelings in ways that harm their bodies. Some teens turn to self-injury behaviors and some develop unhealthy habits relating to food and body image. As you know, young men and women are vulnerable to criticism and are under a lot of pressure to appear a certain way to others. This is part of why eating disorders are common for teens and young adults.
The tricky part is knowing what’s normal. How do you know when a problem needs to be addressed in order to prevent a serious issue such as an eating disorder?
Even though most teens struggle with the challenges of the growing up, an eating disorder is not a part of the growing up process for a healthy teenager. It is considered to be a disease that must be treated both medically and emotionally. An eating disorder is not something that a teen will grow out of on his own.
Want to know if your teen’s habits are normal? Here are tips, myths, and tools that will help you determine whether your teen has an eating disorder. You’ll also feel more confident about addressing your potential concerns successfully.
Top Ten Signs of an Eating Disorder
Make a mental checklist of your teen’s behavior over the past two weeks.
1. Habits surrounding food (keeping a food diary, taking pictures of food, eating at odd times, only eating alone)
2. Critical self-talk or low self-esteem
3. Physical symptoms (sore throat, stomach upset, broken blood vessels in the eyes, abnormal menstrual period, gastrointestinal problems)
4. Fluctuating mood and energy level (irritability or depression)
5. Frequent exercise or complete lack of exercise
6. “Sneaky” behaviors or dishonesty when it comes to food (lying about eating, hiding food, sneaking food)
7. Extreme intake of food, water, or caffeine
8. Avoiding friends or family gatherings that involve food
9. Bathroom habits (using the bathroom after eating, excessive bathroom use, excessive showering)
10. Talking in excess about food or weight, or alternatively, avoiding any talk about food or weight altogether
Myths about eating disorders:
Myth #1: A person with an eating disorder is significantly under weight or over weight. While an eating disorder can sometimes be characterized by a weight concern, this is not always the case. Also, sometimes malnourishment does occur even when a person is not visibly under or overweight.
Myth #2: When it comes down to it, an “eating disorder” is really just a teen trying to get attention. This myth might prevent parents from getting help before a problem becomes serious. An eating disorder often involves a private internal cycle of shame and pain that can cause prolonged psychological distress. It is a disease that can quickly get out of control and put a person at high risk for physical problems and even death.
Let’s get clear on your situation.
There are multiple types of eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. A medical doctor and a mental health professional can help you determine what your teen is dealing with.
Your teen may also be exhibiting signs of a condition such as severe depression, anxiety, or drug abuse, as the symptoms of these can sometimes overlap (i.e. insomnia, irritability, social withdrawal, or excessive worry).
Look at the big picture to assess what your teen may be dealing with. Find the right resource to help you do so. For starters, go to my Teen Counseling page and download my free e-book report: Is Your Teen Depressed? Proven Strategies to Help Your Teen Find Happiness, Hope and Healing.
Last but not least, assess your own gut feelings when it comes to your teen’s health. Ask yourself these questions:
– Does it seem as though my teen is comfortable and open when talking with me about food, health, and body weight?
– Do I ever make negative or extreme comments about my teen’s weight or appearance, even if they are meant to be helpful? (Maybe someone else in the family tends to comment on your teen’s weight or appearance).
– Do I trust my teen to make healthy choices about physical health?
Even if you’re not sure whether your teen has an eating disorder, your teen may be struggling with issues surrounding body image, emotional expression, or general mental and physical health. Don’t hesitate to seek information and support about how your teen can better cope with the struggles of adolescence.
I’m an expert when it comes to helping teens heal and succeed. Contact me via email, or reach out for a free phone consultation.