Eating Disorders in Adolescents

Eating disorders in adolescents

During the hectic days of school, activities and errands, your family may not be able to share a meal together every day, or sometimes for weeks at a time. During the holiday season, we have more time to fully enjoy meals together. If you’ve been concerned about changes you’ve seen in your adolescent or teen, it’s also an opportunity to see what they’re actually eating.

At Alzein Pediatrics, we know that eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s health. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Eating disorders are the leading cause of death from non-drug related mental illness.

  • There are more than 30 million people in the United States with an eating disorder
  • 95% are between 12 and 25 years old
  • 26% will attempt suicide
  • More than 10,000 die annually
  • Girls make up about 69% of those with eating disorders and boys 31%

You may have noticed some behaviors and physical changes in your child that have you puzzled. Perhaps your daughter, once excited about clothes, has suddenly taken to wearing huge sweatshirts and sweatpants. You may think that wearing big clothes would make them feel and look “fatter,” so this can’t indicate an eating disorder. In reality, baggy clothes are often an initial sign of disordered eating, to hide the weight loss. Prompt diagnosis and intervention is vital to recovery, so noticing behavioral changes before any severe physical changes can occur is very important.

Behavioral Eating Disorders in Childs

  • Wears baggy clothes to hide the weight loss
  • Stops seeing friends and hides away from family in the house
  • Avoids occasions where food is offered like parties, sleep-overs and get-togethers
  • Mood swings, fatigue or fainting
  • Food “jags”, eating only green vegetables or only peanut butter, for example
  • Exhibits restlessness, inability to sit still, nervous energy
  • Pushes food around the plate and makes excuses for not eating
  • Has rituals around food
  • Is preoccupied with calories or weight, or guilt about food or eating
  • Has an excessive and compulsive exercise routine
  • Repeated trips to the bathroom – especially after eating

The more weight a child loses, the more difficult the physical and mental illnesses becomes, making it more and more difficult to recover. These physical signs mean your child needs immediate medical intervention.

Physical Signs of  Eating Disorders in Adolescents

  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Difficulty concentrating / sleeping
  • Bad breath, discolored teeth, other dental problems likely caused by vomiting
  • Often cold, especially cold hands
  • Brittle hair and nails

What to do if you suspect your child has an eating disorder

There is no quick fix for eating disorders, but the faster your child gets appropriate professional help, the more likely they are to recover.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), the first step is to establish a dialogue with your child and gather facts. Your child will likely deny they are losing weight or have an eating disorder but will still continue dangerous eating habits.  Remain calm and call Alzein Pediatrics. It is important not to assign blame because there is a great deal of shame and low self-esteem involved in acknowledging an eating disorder.

While you may know your child better than anyone, it’s very unlikely any parents are equipped to handle this complex psychological issue. “At home” remedies and advice from well-meaning non-professionals is most likely to be completely ineffective, delaying proper care and making recovery much more difficult. When you suspect your child has an eating disorder, get professional help immediately. Do not wait.

If you see any behaviors that indicate your child could have an eating disorder, call Alzein Pediatrics at 708-424-7600 or make an appointment immediately. We will make an evaluation and, when needed, refer your child to specialists quickly.  With proper, consistent and compassionate medical care and support at home, there is a great deal of hope for children with eating disorders.

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