An eating disorder is a condition characterized by an obsessive, unhealthy fixation with food that affects a person’s physical and psychological health and wellbeing. Although eating disorders can affect people of either gender and begin at any age, they are most common among women in their teens and early 20s.
Causes of Eating Disorders in Teens
In most cases, an eating disorder is the result of multiple contributing causes. One of the most commonly cited factors is the societal pressure placed on girls and women to be extremely thin. The achievement of this ideal plays a role for many eating disorder sufferers.
Other factors that tend to promote eating disorders include:
- A “perfectionist” personality type
- Participation in activities that favor thin body types (such as ballet or modeling)
- Stressful life events, particularly events associated with life transitions
- Troubled family relationships.
The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. Each type has its own characteristics and warning signs.
People with anorexia nervosa are paranoid about gaining weight. They feel extreme pressure to lose weight, even when they’re underweight.
The most noticeable signs of anorexia nervosa include:
- Avoidance of food
- Fixation with calorie counts and other food-related preoccupations
- Irritability or depression
- Obsession with weight
- Significant weight loss and underweight appearance.
Anorexia can lead to a number of health problems associated with malnutrition and insufficient body fat. Teen girls with anorexia frequently do not menstruate.
This eating disorder is characterized by cycles of binging and purging on food. In a binge-purge episode, the person consumes large quantities of food in a short period of time and then purges the food by inducing vomiting, taking laxatives or exercising excessively.
The following behaviors may be warning signs of bulimia in teens:
- Eating huge amounts of food in one meal, especially sweets and high-fat foods
- Obsessing about weight and exercise
- Preferring to eat alone and refusing invitations to eat out
- Spending long periods in the bathroom after meals.
Parents may also find evidence of laxative use or frequent vomiting if their teen has bulimia.
A person with binge eating disorder repeatedly eats to excess, consuming quantities of food well beyond that required to satiate hunger. People with this disorder often feel shame for their behavior and try to hide their binges, but unlike people with bulimia, they do not purge after a binge.
The warning signs that a teen’s overeating may be caused by a binge eating disorder include:
- Expressions of self-loathing, particularly those relating to weight and eating habits
- Frequent and excessive episodes of overeating
- Preferring to eat alone.
Though binge eating often causes weight gain, binge eaters are not necessarily overweight. Regardless, this disorder can have severe health consequences, both physical and psychological.
Health Risks of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders they take their toll in both physical and emotional ways. They can affect a person’s nutrition and growth and the functioning of vital organs. If left untreated, they can be fatal. Consequently, identifying an eating disorder early and getting proper treatment are critical.