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Helping Teenagers Faced with Eating Disorders

written by: Melinda F. • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/18/2010

Eating disorders in adolescence is not uncommon in Western societies. Many adults who are suffering or have suffered from eating disorders first developed the problem as a young teen. Understanding eating disorders faced by teenagers is vital to offer them the help they need.

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    Eating Disorders Faced by Teenagers

    According to KidsHealth.org it is estimated that for every 100 students, 1 to 2 of them are likely to suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are most common in young women but sometimes young men suffer from them as well. The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

    Anorexia can be described as having an extreme fear of gaining weight. Those suffering from anorexia will do whatever they can to stay thin including restrictive dieting and excessive exercising.

    Bulimia can be described as having a distorted body image that will usually cause sufferers to binge and purge. Both eating disorders are highly dangerous and can even result in death.

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    Symptoms of Eating Disorders Faced by Teenagers

    It can be difficult to begin helping teenagers faced with eating disorders because even if you suspect that they have one they are highly unlikely to ever admit it, especially to their own parent or loved ones.

    Here are a few symptoms to watch for if you think your teen may be suffering from an eating disorder:

    • Noticeable decrease in body weight
    • Obsession with body image
    • Skipping meals
    • Making trips to the bathroom after eating meals
    • Using laxatives
    • Obsession with exercise
    • Binge eating
    • Depression
    • Low self-esteem

    If you are certain that they do have an eating disorder then it’s okay to confront them but don’t ever make accusations or be condescending. What they need is help, and judging them or accusing them will only create animosity. You should talk to them about the dangers of eating disorders, let them know they can be treated and encourage them to get the help they need before they cause irreversible damage to their body.

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    Seek the Help of Experienced Professionals

    Once your teenager has agreed to get help the first person you will want to schedule a visit with is their own primary care physician. Doctors have the resources to put you into contact with therapists and nutritionists, and all three of these professionals will work together to create a plan that will help your teenager begin to recover from their eating disorder.

    The Doctor’s Role: Doctors are basically used to refer you to other specialists, but they will also continue to monitor the teen by periodically checking their vitals including blood pressure, body temperature, pulse, weight and even height.

    The Therapist’s Role: Eating disorders are not only physical diseases but psychological as well. A therapist will work with the teen to help them develop a positive self-image and good self-esteem. A therapist is somebody who can help with other emotions the person may be facing such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.

    The Nutritionist’s Role: Those with eating disorders need to basically learn how to eat again without feeling the fear that they will get fat. This is the main reason why nutritionists are usually part of the treatment plan. They have the education and skills to help those with eating disorders begin to eat more normally by educating them on what foods they should be eating and why.

    Treatment plans will vary from person to person as there isn’t one plan that works for everybody.

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    Offer Teens Your Support

    Whether your teen has agreed to seek treatment or not it’s imperative that you let them know you support them no matter what. The more support an eating disorder sufferer has the more likely they are to begin their road to recovery.

    Be careful that you don’t talk down to them or nag them about their eating disorder. It may harm any treatment efforts.

    Eating disorders are a very real problem in the United States and other countries. Many people develop the disease as young teens, but it is treatable. There are many effective treatment options available for helping teenagers faced with eating disorders.

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    References

    YoungWomensHealth.org: Eating Disorders: A General Guide for Teens http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/eating_disorders.html

    KidsHealth.org: Eating Disorders http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/problems/eat_disorder.html#