Eating disorders are amongst the most common forms of teenage mental health disorders. The constant stress of establishing one’s identity, the external pressures to satisfy an impossible beauty standard, and the hormonal changes associated with puberty are all possible factors that make teenagers more likely to suffer. In fact, 90 percent of young women with eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old (SAMHSA).
Eating disorders can be debilitating and difficult. But just because you or your teenager might be suffering in the status quo, doesn’t mean that you cannot recover. Though recovery isn’t something that will magically happen overnight, it is in fact possible. With the proper mindset and a willingness to improve, there is hope that things can get better. Here are is a quick guide to help your loved one with an eating disorder: .
Recognize that change is needed
Many people who suffer from bulimia or anorexia have difficulty recognizing their behavior is unhealthy. Those who develop an eating disorder while they are trying to lose weight may initially be greeted with praise. People say things like, “I can tell you’ve lost weight!” in an inadvertently reinforcing effort to build their friends’ self-esteem. But if they had known how the weight was being lost, they would be more reluctant to offer this encouragement.
There exists a tremendous difference between healthy weight loss behavior and chronically damaging eating disorders. Exercising, eating healthier foods, and doing things such as drinking less soda are all things we can encourage our friends to do. But self-starvation, binging, and purging are activities that must be recognized as harmful to the human body.
The first step is to recognize that a problem exists. For parents, this can be incredibly difficult. Most parents do not realize their teenager is suffering until the disorder has developed further. But—keeping in mind that teenagers are more likely to develop an eating disorder than any other age group—you can be monitoring for the development of ongoing symptoms:
- Unexplained changes in tastes, appetites, and attitudes towards food
- Sudden loss of energy
- Rapid weight loss (even teenagers who are overweight should not be losing weight quickly)
- Frequent sickness, weakened immune system, fainting, increased fragility
- Low self-esteem, consistently comparing self to others, reclusive behavior
Once you have recognized that change is actually needed, the recovery process can formally begin. If you believe that your teenager may be suffering from an eating disorder, you can play a crucial role in the recovery process. Do not be afraid to contact a licensed professional.
Establish realistic goals
Once you have recognized your teenager has developed an eating disorder, do not try to cause change through an appeal to emotion. It is never a good idea to yell at them, shame them, or alienate them any more than they already feel. Instead, appeal to reason. Successful recovery begins with the recognition of a problem and the need for realistic change.
Eating disorders can take months, even years, to successfully recover from. It can be overwhelming to demand every necessary change to occur simultaneously. If you are unable to establish realistic recovery goals, relapse is something that is much more likely to happen.
Establishing goals that are measurable, realistic, and positive are the best way to begin moving in the right direction:
- “I am going to eat three meals a day this week.”
- “I am going to feel good about myself today.”
- “I am going to begin eating more fruits and vegetables.”
- “I am going to commit myself to making a full recovery.”
Though it is impossible to be perfect, simply having these goals in mind can make the entire process much easier. Furthermore, as we approach the beginning of a new year, it is important to realize that the resolution season is the perfect time to make a dramatic life change.
Come up with a tangible plan for recovery
Just as it is important to have established recovery objectives, it is also important to have a feasible plan for actually achieving these objectives. It is one thing to declare “I am going to change for the better”, but it is another thing to have a realistic way to actually do so.
If you are a parent of a teenager who is suffering from an eating disorder, you may not be qualified to tell them everything they need to know in order to get better. While what you can do is offer them unconditional love, support, and assistance along the way, it may be better to reach out to a professional in order to come up with a proven and tested plan.
Teen psychologists, pediatricians, dietitians, and school counselors are all different people who can help you establish a plan for success. If your son or daughter can understand what is most likely to work for them, they are much more likely to be motivated to change.
As a parent, it is important to realize that your teen is, in fact, trying their best. They did not develop an eating disorder maliciously. They are not trying to hurt or spite you in any way. They are, however, likely feeling very lost. What they need is guidance and support. Developing a reasonable plan within reach can offer them both.
Find an available source of support
One of the problems that many parents find themselves running into is it impossible to approach your teenager objectively. After all, you are the one who has raised them, you have been with them for much of their life, and it is impossible to establish yourself as an objective and unbiased outsider.
The relationship between many teenagers and their parents is incredibly complicated, and they may not want to listen to you, even if you have their best interests at heart. Instead of trying to assume the entire responsibility for recovery yourself, direct them to someone outside your immediate family that is able to offer them the help that they need.
Certified professionals, family friends, counselors, coaches, and trusted religious officials are all people who can potentially offer your teenager an objective source of help. Building a dynamic and supportive community makes recovering from an eating disorder far easier than recovering on one’s own.
Eating disorders are difficult, intimidating, and overwhelming burdens to confront. If you are the parent of a teenager who is suffering—or if you are a teenager who is suffering—you can be comforted by the fact that, though the path forward may be not be easy, recovery is something that is always within reach.
With the willingness to recognize the need to change, set goals, make a plan, and gather support, you can immediately begin moving in the right direction. There is always hope.
Polaris Teen Center specializes in residential treatment for adolescents. We offer individualized, tailored programs for both mental health disorders, and co-occurring secondary cases of substance abuse and eating disorders. Find the right help for your teen. To learn more about our programs, or to speak confidentially with our admissions specialists, dial (844) 836-0222, or contact us here.[ratings]