Eating Disorders in Teenagers

Eating Disorders Affecting Teens

In a society where the concept of beauty is adjudged solely through the biased lens of visual appeal, almost everyone worries about his or her weight at least now and then. Many people, especially youngsters, take such concerns to dietary extremes and acquire abnormal eating habits that threaten their wellbeing and even their lives.

In a populated country that battles high percentage of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, disorders related to eating are often overlooked or considered insignificant. Habitual dieting is usually considered normal, thereby concealing the dark side of dieting such as binging, anorexia and bulimia. Such eating disorders are on the rise among teenagers for whom self-esteem is linked closely to body image.

Typically, we tend to underestimate the fact that eating disorders are serious illnesses with health consequences that may include anaemia, low blood pressure. kidney and heart malfunction, type 2 diabetes and nutrient deficiency. Teenagers with eating disorders tend to be more prone to mental issues such as stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse, which invariably aggravate eating disorders leading to a vicious cycle.

Although the causes of eating disorders in teens may vary, a research conducted by the department of psychology of the University of Birmingham and University of Sheffield concluded that, the present study supports a model where increased stress (i.e. stressors and maladaptive coping) results in low self-esteem. which in turn leads to more disturbed eating attitudes.

Eating disorders often begin in adolescence when teens experience sudden changes in their bodies, hormones and peer groups. A transformation within and an alteration in the environment at home or school may initiate the onset of stress. A misdirected attempt to control some part of the change or to cope with new feelings or unexpected experiences may trigger an eating disorder. Currently, the most common eating disorders among teenagers are as follows.

Anorexia – Restraining food intake by radically limiting calories and/or exercising tremendously.

BulimIa – Binging on large quantities of food and then ridding the body of calories by purging. This may include exercising excessively, forced vomiting or diuretics or abusing laxatives.

Binging – Regularly overindulging on large amounts of food without purging.

Teenagers with eating disorders are often unaware of their condition and tend to believe that their eating and exercise habits are normal. Soon it becomes a toxic way of life that drowns out good sense or better judgment.

Self-image replaces self-respect and teens stop caring about the long-term consequences. They become paranoid about their size and may go to any lengths necessary to keep the weight off.

Eating disorders are serious illnesses with health consequences that may include anaemia, low blood pressure, kidney and heart malfunction, type 2 diabetes and nutrient deficiency

Triggers Of Eating Disorders

  • Home environment (growing up around role models who diet or worry excessively about their weight).
  • Bullied by peers about weight.
  • Personality types such as perfectionists, chronic worriers or those extremely sensitive to criticism.
  • Genetics.
  • Being in abusive relationships.
  • Media influence or social pressure.
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or onset stress.
  • Hormonal changes in the body.
  • Disturbing life events such as illness, divorce or death in the family.
  • Cultural or personal taste preferences.

Some of the symptoms of teen eating disorders include, losing a significant amount of weight or looking very thin, counting calories, food obsession, body shape and weight anxiety. frequent weigh-ins, excessive exercise, social isolation, lack of energy, feeling cold. hair loss, cessation of periods and perfectionist behaviour.

Eating disorders do not subside on their own and can get aggravated over time. Unhealthy eating patterns are easier to treat when detected early.

  • Individual, group and family therapy
  • Medication and monitoring
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Nutrition counselling
  • Lifestyle coaching

The scientifically balanced treatments stated above help escalate awareness and heighten self-respect. With awareness comes freedom! Once self- esteem is restored, most teens enter a new realm of positive possibilities that allow them to break the shackles of the old self-defeating negative patterns.

Slowly a shift towards constructive dietary choices (such as wholesome nourishing food) emerges that diminishes fear of food, restores health by replenishing the body’s nutrient balance and encourages the ingestion of nutrient dense meals against empty calorie foods that add pounds.

Eventually, teenagers are able to develop healthier coping techniques to deal with life’s unavoidable difficulties, strategize to prevent a relapse and cultivate a deeply reverent nurturing attitude towards the body.

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