Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that affects a staggering amount of people from all different backgrounds and demographics. Yet, it is most prevalent in teenage girls. Statistics show that anywhere between 1-5% of adolescent females suffer from anorexia during some point throughout their teenage years. Anorexia is characterized by intentionally limiting food intake, often due to a desire to be thin (and/or an intense fear of weight gain). Anorexia is also marked by an extreme distortion in perceived body shape and size. Whether because of shame or the desire to continue acting out in eating disorder behaviors, those who suffer from anorexia often attempt to hide their disease. So, although warning signs of anorexia may be difficult to detect, there are some more obvious indicators that your teen may be struggling with anorexia.
Early Warning Signs of Anorexia
If your teen is becoming more and more focused on his or her body, including weight, shape, or size, this might be an early sign of anorexia. Commonly, those who develop anorexia are displeased with their physical appearance and tend to become fixated on all things concerning the body. Some frequent behaviors associated with increased focus on the body are:
• Negative body comments
• More time spent in from of the mirror
• Body checking (touching the body to assess size, shape, and/or weight loss or gain)
• Seeking reassurance from others regarding body shape and size
• Weighing self frequently
• Increased exercise
Food Behaviors and Rituals
If you suspect your teen might struggle with anorexia, noticing his or her food habits might provide more insight. Eating disorder behaviors around food often become ritualistic, rigid, and involve many “rules”. This might look like:
• Only eating certain foods
• Expressing fear of certain foods
• Not letting foods mix (or touch) other food items on the same plate
• Taking very small bites
• Counting calories
Of course, a telltale sign of anorexia is if your teen begins to skip meals. This may not seem concerning at first, as your teen may use excuses such as “I’m not hungry” or “I already ate.”
Anyone who starves their body of the necessary nutrients will likely exhibit emotional changes. Malnourishment can cause increased irritability, anger, and sadness. If your teen is suffering from anorexia, he or she may also demonstrate an increased sensitivity to (perceived) criticism.
As children age into teenagers, their desire for privacy tends to increase. But, if you notice your teen withdrawing from friends and family, interacting less and becoming increasingly isolated from others that could be a sign of something more significant going on. Commonly, teens with anorexia isolate themselves from others (perhaps in an effort to keep eating disorder behaviors secret).
There are many signs and symptoms that might emerge if you teenager is struggling with anorexia, including:
Quick List of Warning Signs in Anorexia
- Mood changes
- Presence of diet/laxative pills
- Obsessiveness around food
- Weight loss
- Wearing loose clothing (an effort to cover up weight loss or avoid body comments)
- Increased exercise
- Mood changes, especially around food and meal times
- Focus on body shape and size
- Loss of interest in social outlets and activities
If you suspect a loved on is struggling with anorexia, there are some questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity on the individual’s behaviors:
- Is he/she skipping meals?
- Is he/she exceedingly concerned about gaining or losing weight?
- Is there food hidden in his/her room?
- Have you found diet pills or laxatives that you did not purchase?
- Do he/she wear loose-fitting clothing?
- Does he/she spend excessive amounts of time in the bedroom?
- Has he/she become increasingly secretive?
- Does he/she focus on the calories in foods eaten?
- Has he/she suddenly adopted a vegetarian/vegan/other diet?
- Is he/she spending more time exercising?