We worry about so many things when it comes to our teens, and eating disordered behavior is something we hope to avoid. Many women suffering from an eating disorder develop behaviors during their teen years or earlier. In fact, the typical age for developing an eating disorder is 12 years of age, with anorexia and compulsive overeating being the most common types.
What causes an eating disorder?
As children grow, there is a development that takes place both externally and internally. Hormonal changes can cause an increase in emotions, stress, confusion, and fear. Some studies have shown that these changes can initiate the activation of genes that predispose an individual to eating disorders. Other changes, such as those in ovarian hormones, can affect body weight and food intake when they occur at a younger age in females. Many of these hormonal changes explain why there is a greater development of eating disorders in females versus males, and why adolescence is a critical time for the development of eating disorders.
In addition to hormonal changes, eating disorders develop from a combination of emotional, mental, physical, and social factors such as:
- Perfectionism: Self-oriented perfectionism, which is setting unrealistically high expectations for one’s self, is one of the strongest risk factors for an eating disorder.
- Body image dissatisfaction: It is not uncommon for many teens to dislike their appearance, but many who develop an eating disorder buy into the message of a socially defined “ideal body.” For some, seeking the ideal body can lead to behaviors that develop into an eating disorder.
- Weight stigma: The constant exposure to messages that thinner is better has caused an increase in body dissatisfaction. Some adolescents are so dissatisfied with their weight they use food as a source of comfort, but then rid their body of caloric consequences through vomiting, medications, or excessive exercise.
- Teasing or bullying: Being teased or bullied is becoming a stronger risk factor in many eating disorders, especially when the teasing is about weight. Research shows that 60% of those affected by eating disorders attributed bullying to the development of their eating disorder.
- Limited social networks: Many individuals with an eating disorder have reported having fewer friends and are involved in fewer social activities.
- Pre-disposition: Studies show that having a parent or sibling who has struggled with an eating disorder can increase someone’s risk for developing one.
What are the red flags of an adolescent eating disorder?
It is often hard to know when your teen is merely a teen or if their behavior is genuinely a cause for concern. Some red flags can be a sign of an issue in your adolescent, such as:
- Uncomfortable being in a swimsuit
- Resistance to back to school shopping
- Negative talk about body weight and shape
- Wearing certain clothes to cover areas of embarrassment on the body–neck, stomach, legs
- Eating less, especially in summer months as it is often a time to wear shorts and swimsuits
Negative Feeling Toward Food
- Feeling guilty or depressed about eating something believed to be unhealthy. These are warning signs of a fear of food that can lead to restriction and the creation of food rules.
- Uncomfortable eating in front of others, or in public places, such as school.
- Hiding food, which can be a common occurrence with binge eating disorder. You may find candy, chip, etc. wrappers hidden in the bedroom.
Perfectionist Personality and Mood Disorders
- Presence of a perfectionist personality, including being hard on themselves. As mentioned, perfectionism is very common in individuals suffering from an eating disorder.
- History of or presence of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can underlie an eating disorder and the eating disorder behaviors are ways to express the mood disorder.
How can you help?
Adolescents suffering from an eating disorder have developed a dissatisfied relationship with their bodies and disordered relationship with food, leaving them to struggle to find happiness and balance within themselves. Studies have shown that early intervention in the development of an eating disorder can provide the best outcome for long-term recovery.
At Selah House, our adolescent program offers teen eating disorder treatment in a culture of openness, honesty, and high regard for others to help our clients feel comfortable and safe during their time with us. We use a variety of group and individual therapies to guide the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the recovery process. Our program offers a clear step-down process using multiple levels of care – inpatient, residential, and partial hospitalization – that ensure a stable transition into aftercare.
In addition, we help our clients to continue their education while in our program. Our certified teacher works with each teen, their family, and their school to establish an individualized education plan that assists them with assignment and coursework completion while they are in treatment.
We use a comprehensive, evidence-based approach that meets the medical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual, social and emotional needs of your teen. It is our desire to provide a fully integrated Christ-based and clinically excellent program that empowers your teen to walk into freedom from their eating disorder and restore what matters most in their life.