Written by Marissa Halstead
There are many opinions that adults disagree on, but something that we probably can all find common ground on is that being a teenager is hard. There are so many raging hormones, tough friendships, and struggles to find identity and independence. Something that many parents are concerned about is their teenagers’ eating habits. Thankfully, there are signs that can alert you when to have concern versus a teenager just being a teenager.
Disordered eating patterns exhibit behavioral and physical signs. Some examples of behavioral signs are:
- An increased preoccupation with the size and weight of his or her body
- Low self-esteem and negative body image
- Preoccupation with dieting, calories, and food in general
- Only eating particular foods or food groups
- Highly uncomfortable eating around others
- Leaving for the restroom (this can include wanting to shower) frequently after meals
- Often skips meals all together
The following experiences follow from an extended period of disordered eating. You might notice your teen having:
- Noticeable weight fluctuations (this can be gain and/or loss)
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- An inconsistent menstrual cycle
- Dizziness and fainting when standing
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dental issues like cavities and tooth erosion
The more of these signs your teenager displays, the more highly we encourage you to seek help and take the matter very seriously. Eating disorders are the most deadly psychiatric illness. This might be surprising to some people, but it proves that education surrounding this topic is very important. If you do see signs in your teenager, promptly get him or her evaluated by a health care provider. Insist that the therapist include you in the intake session (or meet with you separately) so you can share your questions, concerns, and the symptoms you have noticed. Most people who have an eating disorder are very good at covering it up, so it is paramount that you voice the reality of the situation.
The severity of the eating disorder is what determines how it is treated. First and foremost, your teenager needs you. They need your continued love – in the form of warmth (closeness, affection) as well as structure (rules, boundaries). If you’d like more people on your team, the options range from weekly mental health counseling, an intensive outpatient program (where teens meet a few hours each day), residential care, or hospitalization (for the most severe teens with serious health risks). Your teenager can heal and grow from an eating disorder, but it may be a long journey forward. Talk openly with your teen about your concerns and if necessary, your desire to seek evaluation and learn more. You are their parent, trust that parental instinct in you.