Eating Disorder Facts for Teens

In popular culture and mass media, “beautiful” is synonymous with being thin. It is no wonder that eating disorders are common among teens – an age group that is very image-conscious and vulnerable at the same time.

There is nothing wrong with being healthy. As a nation, on the one hand, we are fighting an obesity epidemic and on the other, there is an increase in eating disorders and anorexic tendencies.

What is an eating disorder?

The term “eating disorder” refers to a recurrent and constant obsession with weight and food which can be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. 

While we are all concerned about our weight, individuals who suffer from an eating disorder will go to extremes to stop from becoming overweight. There are two primary eating disorders: anorexia-nervosa and bulimia.

What causes eating disorders?

The jury is still out as to what causes eating disorders. The most likely causes are, being stressed or angry about something that’s happening in your life or feeling like you must feel “in control.” 

Society also places an enormous amount of pressure on individuals to look slim. All these things put together can lead to a lack of interest in eating healthy or starving oneself.

Eating Disorders – Facts to Ponder

  • More than 10 million people in the US suffer from eating disorders
  • 90% of those who suffer from eating disorders are women
  • Those who suffer from eating disorders come from all economic backgrounds
  • Eating disorders mostly start in one’s teens, but they may start as early as age 8

Source – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

What is anorexia?

One of the more commonly known eating disorders, anorexia impacts between 3 and 4 young women out of every 1000. Anorexics are obsessed with being slim. They don’t like eating and are scared of becoming overweight. 

Anorexics are often worried about the number of calories they consume, or the amount of fat within their meals. They could use diet pills, laxatives and water tablets to reduce weight. They could exercise too often. 

People suffering from anorexia may think that they’re overweight even though they’re thin. In fact many anorexics become too thin and start looking unhealthy or even sick.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is when you eat a large amount of food in one sitting (called binge eating) followed by throwing up or taking laxatives to eliminate what you just ate from your body (called cleansing). 

After a binge, bulimics may give up food altogether for several meals (fasting) or exercise excessively to prevent from becoming overweight. Bulimia sufferers may take laxatives, water pills as well as diet supplements in order to “control” their weight. 

Bulimics frequently try to conceal their binge eating and purging. They might hide food to avoid food cravings. Those who suffer from bulimia typically have normal weight however their weight can fluctuate.

What’s wrong with trying to be thin?

Nothing! It is good to watch what you eat and to exercise regularly. But it is definitely not healthy for your body and mind to be constantly fretting over your weight and what you eat.

People with eating disorders can hearm their bodies because of their obsession with their weight. If it isn’t treated, anorexia can cause the following health problems:

  • Stomach problems
  • Heart problems
  • Irregular periods or no periods
  • Fine hair all over the body, including the face
  • Dry, scaly skin

If it isn’t treated, bulimia can cause the following health problems:

  • Stomach problems
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Dental problems (from throwing up stomach acid)
  • Dehydration (not enough water in the body)

Can eating disorders be treated?

Eating disorders can definitely be treated.

If you are anorexic, the first step for you is to return to your normal weight. If you are malnourished or very thin, you might need to be admitted to a hospital. Consult your medical practitioner for advice. Your doctor might recommend that you visit a dietitian so that you can learn to select healthy food choices and to eat regularly. 

For both anorexics and bulimics counsel with family members and individuals (talking about the feelings you have about your weight and the issues within your life) can be helpful.

What are the warning signs that one is suffering from an eating disorder?

The following are possible warning signs of anorexia and bulimia:

  • Unnatural concern about body weight (even if the person is not overweight)
  • An unhealthy obsession with calories, fat grams and food
  • Use of any medicines to keep from gaining weight (diet pills, laxatives, water pills)

More serious warning signs may be harder to spot. Those who suffer from an eating disorder try to hide it. If you are concerned that a loved one has an eating disorder, look out for:

  • Throwing up after meals
  • Refusing to eat or lying about how much was eaten
  • Fainting
  • Over-exercising
  • Not having periods
  • Increased anxiety about weight
  • Calluses or scars on the knuckle (from forced throwing up)
  • Denying that there is anything wrong