Eating Disorders and Teens

    Why More Young People Are at Risk


    Unfortunately, children and teens experience eating disorders. Although the causes of eating disorders in children are not clear, young people undergo a variety of biological changes, along with facing transitions throughout middle school, high school, and college, which can play a role in the development of severe problems.

    Recent studies have shown that eating disorders are becoming more common in younger children. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that approximately 81 percent of 10-year-olds have expressed apprehension about becoming overweight. According to a survey of college-age students conducted by Eating Disorder HOPE, approximately 25 percent of students have attempted to control their weight with bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by purging), and around 91 percent of college-age females diet to control their weight.

    Eating disorders are intensely personal conditions that can be exacerbated, triggered, or preceded by a number of events and experiences.

    As kids attempt to adjust to new situations, it’s normal and natural to feel out of control sometimes. Many young people turn to food and diet, thinking that eating is something over which they have full control. This might start as unhealthy eating habits, but it can shift into an eating disorder. With the pressure that a new school entails, stress and anxiety are sometimes unavoidable. Students may become obsessed with their appearance or weight in response to school stressors.

    Traditional and social media strongly influence how people see themselves. Unfortunately, children are constantly exposed to unrealistic body images. This causes some teens to attempt to fit into that image, thinking what they see is what’s normal in society.

    In many instances, not belonging to a particular school group can cause anxiety or panic for students. Experts agree that peer pressure in school can be a root cause of eating disorders in teens. In school settings, peers discuss and compare body weight, clothes sizes, thigh gaps, and other measurements that signify body size. The underlying belief is: What constitutes normal is a number below the bell curve. These discussions are put on repeat like a tape playing inside our children’s heads – from a very young age – and it’s difficult to silence those voices. Our kids become conscious of their size, and most likely change their diet just to fit in.

    The lunch period presents a unique challenge for kids who might already have issues with body image. The time teens are given to eat lunch at school is limited. This can cause uncontrolled food intake, which can lead to binge-eating and other unhealthy eating patterns associated with anorexia
    and bulimia.

    During lunch, kids not only eat, but they also want to chat with their peers, which adds yet another reason for them to eat faster. However, the opposite can also happen – some individuals do not belong to a group of friends. This might cause them to eat rapidly because they feel lonely, ashamed, or anxious. Some will even avoid eating completely, for fear of being labeled as a loner.

    To this schedule and timing issue, add the lunch table script that might include a whole range of phrases like: Do you think you should eat that whole bagel? Why do you bring so many vegetables in your lunch? Do you know how much fat is in that? 

    These are the struggles of students that might lead to eating disorders. Although they may seem insignificant, rest assured, they are real, and may be happening with your teen today.

    When teens and adults encounter a peer with an eating disorder, it’s not always clear how to respond. Living with an eating disorder can be challenging and even life-threatening, especially with teens who have little control. Treatment is important, and so is finding the root cause of the eating disorder. A support group is equally important for reducing anxiety by finding other young teens who empathize with some of the struggles of eating disorders.

    It’s virtually impossible to predict your student’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Parents can increase their child’s odds of staying healthy by monitoring behavior, keeping communication open, and getting help when you suspect a problem. Parents who are concerned about their child’s mental wellness should seek treatment from a mental health professional.

    What are the symptoms of eating disorders?

    There are different types of eating disorders and a variety of symptoms. Identifying someone with an eating disorder can be difficult, but here are common signs that shouldn’t be ignored, according to NEDA.

    1. Having low self-esteem due to body image
    2. Having no control over eating
    3. Binge-eating
    4. Inadequate food intake
    5. Restricting food intake
    6. Strong guilt about the binge-eating episode
    7. Evidence of compulsive behavior
    8. Self-induced vomiting