How Can I Tell if My Teen Has an Eating Disorder?

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As a parent, it can be a terrifying thought that your child or teen is suffering from a mental health disorder like an eating disorder. But the sad truth is that eating disorders are common, especially for teens. Yet while they are common, they are also very treatable when working with mental health professionals. In addition to therapy, or at times even medication, teen residential treatment centers can prove to be an effective treatment option to help teens understand their mental health struggles and develop healthy coping strategies so that they can lead happy and productive lives. 

Here, we’re taking a closer look at these common mental health issues to better equip parents with the knowledge to know how to face them and be there to support their teens. We review some of the warning signs that can help indicate whether or not your teen may be experiencing an eating disorder. We then offer some tips for what to do next so that your teen can have a better relationship with food and pursue a healthy, happy life.

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What are Eating Disorders?

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is an eating disorder? According to the renowned American Psychiatric Association (APA), eating disorders are classified as specific behavioral conditions that are characterized by severe and frequent disturbances to someone’s eating behaviors. The disorder also affects your associated thoughts and emotions involving food and eating.

Eating disorders from the ground up completely transform your relationship with food. As a result, they may lead to unhealthy behaviors, including a significant lack of eating, binge eating, avoidance of certain foods, anxiety with food, compulsive exercise, or even purging after meals. Over time and without proper treatment, these behaviors can have serious impacts on both the physical and mental health of the individual. While anyone of any age can experience an eating disorder, they tend to be most common in young women. While research is still helping us learn why, many experts point to peer pressure, lack of resources, and the unrealistic body image set by the media that many young women feel they must live up to. 

How Can I Tell if My Teen Has an Eating Disorder?

As a parent without medical training or experience, it can seem almost impossible to diagnose whether or not your teen is actually experiencing an eating disorder. After all, it’s common for all of us to change our appetite or eating patterns from time to time. This is especially common for younger people as growth and puberty may change appetites and what types of food they enjoy. We all know how picky younger people can be with food, right?

However, an actual eating disorder is much more than just a change in taste or appetite. Eating disorders dramatically affect the mental and physical health of the individual and often lead to an unhealthy relationship with food in general. Left untreated, they can continue on and become even more severe.

To help parents better understand these common mental health issues, here are some warning signs that can help you determine whether or not your teen may be experiencing some type of eating disorder.

·  Irregular eating habits (too much or too little).

·  Dramatic changes to their weight or appearance.

·  Unrealistic body image.

·  Skipping meals.

·  Eating in private.

·  Trouble sleeping.

·  Degradation of hair and nails.

·  Excessive energy.

·  Urge to exercise more than normal.

·  Constant attention paid to physical appearance.

Of course, not every teen will exhibit all of these symptoms. This is why it’s so important that you’re aware and able to have an open and honest discussion with your teen. If you suspect that your teen has an unhealthy relationship with food, speaking to them from a place of love and support is an important first step. From there, you can then begin to mark out a path toward receiving professional help and treatment. 

Can Eating Disorders Be Treated?

Yes. Eating disorders are very treatable when working with a doctor or mental health professional. Some of the most common treatments include:

1. Therapy: perhaps the most common method of treatment for eating disorders is psychological treatment, primarily cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of psychotherapy focuses on the feelings, thoughts, and other behaviors associated with the eating disorder. This therapy helps teens recognize their unhealthy behaviors and then develop new, healthier behaviors to help them cope and grow.

2. Medication: for some cases, antidepressants are the most common drugs prescribed for treating teen eating disorders. Because eating disorders are, at their base, a psychological issue, treating stress or depression may be critical when addressing the root of the mental health disorder. In severe cases, other types of medication may be needed to treat the physical effects of an eating disorder.

3. Residential treatment centers: for some, a more comprehensive level of treatment may be needed for success. To treat these patients, they may recommend using a residential treatment center. Residential teen treatment centers are in-house treatment centers offering comprehensive care for teens suffering from a variety of unique mental and behavioral issues. With 24/7 care and access to top medical professionals, these treatment centers can help your teen understand their issues and develop quality coping mechanisms to allow them to lead a healthy life when they leave. 

Conclusion – How Can I Tell if My Teen Has an Eating Disorder?

It can be a frightening experience to confront the fact that you might have a teen with an eating disorder. As a loving parent, you may not feel like you have adequate information or resources necessary to effectively help your teen. However, regardless of your experience, you are still the most important resource for your teen. You will play a key role in helping them get better. It may be a challenge to identify an eating disorder, but if they exhibit one or more of the previously mentioned warning signs, it may be time to have a discussion about their eating habits and turn to professional help.

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