A HIDDEN DISEASE
Teen mental health is a complex condition. Sometimes, teens drastically alter their eating habits due to many factors. Prolonged teen eating disorders can have a devastating effect on health, and can even lead to death. So the importance of monitoring teens for eating disorders cannot be overstated. Consider:
– Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
– Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
– Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
– An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male
Unfortunately, many parents do not realize that their teen has an eating disorder until the symptoms have become obvious. This is due, in part, because many teens with eating disorders are so-called “good” teens, that is, they do well in school, obey their parents, and have a healthy social life. And to a great extent, these teens are often high-achieving perfectionists. They work furiously to maintain the illusion of a happy, fulfilled life, but inside, they are constantly struggling to maintain the unachievable standards they have set for themselves.
As teenagers are experience the burden of change—chemically, biologically, socially, and cognitively—they are particularly at-risk of suffering from eating disorders. If left undiagnosed or untreated, eating disorders can be incredibly dangerous. Fortunately, while they may not always be easy to cope with, there are indeed solutions and answers available.
CAUSES OF EATING DISORDERS
Generally, eating disorders occur in teenagers who—whether they are medically right or wrong—believe they ought to be losing weight but do not want or understand how to do it in a healthy manner. The development of an eating disorder is a complicated process; its effects occur physically, emotionally, and mentally, and when left untreated, eating disorders can inflict an incredible amount of damage.
There is no singular event that can trigger an eating disorder in teenagers, but the factors contributing to their presence include expectations made by peers, a desire to meet an impossible beauty standard, a lack of self-esteem, hormone imbalances, genetics, and many others. If you believe your teenager may be suffering from an eating disorder, you should not wait and simply hope it goes away. The sooner you find help, the easier and more likely it is they will be able to fully recover and return to their normal health.
THE RISE IN EATING DISORDERS
Unfortunately, statistics show that teen eating disorders are on the rise and that both young men and women have the potential to suffer from this challenging disorder. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, or “ANRED,” over 80 million people in the United States suffer from eating disorders like: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, Body Dysmorphia, binge-eating, and other related disorders. Additionally, it is a commonly accepted fact that anorexia and bulimia tend to primarily affect teenagers. ANRED provides an action plan and answers to frequently asked questions for those who have loved ones suffering from eating disorders here. Amongst the most important steps you can take are getting help for the individual with the eating disorder as quickly as possible and, in the case of your child’s doctor or counselor advising hospitalization, to do so immediately.
There are a wide variety of diagnosable eating disorders that are particularly common in teenagers, but the two most common are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is characterized by an individual’s deliberate refusal to eat, or deliberate decrease in the amount they eat. They may be focused on calorie consumption and may use laxatives to lose weight. They are obsessed with food and are usually very thin. Those with this kind of teen eating disorders may have fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, thin and breaking hair, loss of menstruation, dehydration, constipation, and osteoporosis. They may be depressed, and lose interest in their friends or regular activities. The individual may skip meals, eat only foods that are low in calories, may avoid eating in public, and may be obsessed with their image. This kind of teen eating disorder is caused by biological, psychological and environmental factors. Theoretically, some people are genetically predisposed towards perfectionism. Those who have higher levels of anxiety and are obsessive are more likely to have teen eating disorders. Lastly, thinness is prized in many cultures and is associated with beauty and perfection and may therefore be the cause of teen eating disorders.
Bulimia is characterized by either normal or excessive eating behaviors followed by an individual’s deliberate expulsion of their food (most often through vomiting). Studies show that up to 4% of certain populations will suffer from anorexia in their lifetimes and up to 2% will suffer from bulimia, though the exact figures vary significantly by study. When bulimics binge they often do so in secret, and the act is replete with guilt. People with this kind of teen eating disorders are usually of average weight, or may be overweight. Those with this kind of teen eating disorders may be dehydrated, experience kidney failure and/or heart failure, have tooth decay and gum disease, have absent or irregular menstruation, digestive problems, constipation, anxiety, depression, abuse alcohol or drugs and can result in suicide or death.
Another eating disorder is binge eating disorder. With this disorder, an individual will consume large amounts of food in an uncontrollable manner. These people will eat even when they’re not hungry, will feel uncomfortable when full, and feel depressed, disgusted, ashamed or guilty about eating. Unlike bulimia, those with a binge eating disorder won’t compensate for the act of overeating. Restricting diet can resulting in additional binging. This disease has many causes, including family history, psychological issues, dieting and age. Hereditary factors for teen eating disorders are significant; it could be a matter of nature or nurture. Psychological issues may include other disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Many binge eaters have a history of failed dieting.
Because teens have become adept at hiding their eating disorders, it is important for parents to know the warning signs of the two most common teen eating disorders, the most significant of which are:
- Inability to stop eating
- Secrecy surrounding eating–Wanting to eat in privacy
- Eating unusually large amounts of food with no obvious change in weight
- Disappearance of food, numerous empty wrappers or food containers in the garbage, or hidden stashes of junk food
- Rarely eats normal meals. It’s all-or-nothing when it comes to food
- Dieting despite being thin
- Obsession with calories, fat grams, and nutrition
- Pretending to eat or lying about eating
- Preoccupation with food
- Strange or secretive food rituals
To stop the eating disorder cycle, parents and teens need help from an experienced, reputable teen rehab facility. One answer is to locate a teen treatment center with experience in working with the specific adolescent mental health category of eating disorders.
Differences Among Genders
Anorexia—along with bulimia—is statistically found to be more common in girls than in boys, but it does exist amongst all genders. Studies show that in western countries (North American and European), 0.3% of boys and 4.3% of girls will suffer from anorexia at some point in their lifetime. But just because anorexia is less common in boys than it is in girls does not mean you should dismiss it as a possibility. No matter what gender your teenager may be, you should be aware of their eating behaviors to assure they are developing healthy habits, and offer unconditional support along the way.
These same myriad studies have concluded that anorexia is more common in girls because girls are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem in their developmental years. Furthermore, girls are more likely to suffer from issues relating to body dysmorphia, social pressures to conform, and various other risk factors. Lastly, the influence of impossible beauty standards that are forced upon young girls by the media make them especially vulnerable to anorexia.
Both result in rapid and unhealthy weight loss. Eating disorders are particularly common in teenage populations, largely because of their extreme changes in hormones, their likelihood to suffer from low self-esteem, and their likelihood to suffer from body dysmorphia (where the way in which they visually perceive themselves is obscured).
POLARIS CAN HELP
Polaris Teen Center is an adolescent mental health treatment center that provides a safe haven for healing and growth for adolescents, including those with eating disorders. Our whole person approach to treating mental health conditions addresses the presenting symptoms while simultaneously concentrating on the deeper issues that may be at hand. This innovative strategy at our treatment center is an important way of paving the road for a successful and strong recovery.
Our adolescent treatment center provides an environment that supports healing within the whole family by involving parents and loved ones in the treatment process. We are dedicated to each individual’s future goals and ongoing recovery.
Polaris Teen Center is able to offer truly individualized care because our residential capacity is limited to six beds. This is an extremely purposeful decision made by our team in order to provide you or your loved one with the best quality care possible. Our Residential Program has the ability to provide therapy and treatment for a range of mental health issues and disorders. Even though our facility is prepared to address a variety of disorders, we have the same goal for each of our individual patients. We strive to represent a source of strength and support for both the patient and the patient’s family and loved ones. It is our mission to help the client heal and grow through essential social interaction and family dynamics while addressing different learning speeds and styles. As a highly focused adolescent mental health facility, our team develops an invaluable awareness of the unique qualities of each person and adjusts to individual needs.