Is your child at risk of developing an eating disorder?
Why do adolescents develop eating disorders?
Eating disorders begin to show up during adolescence when children hit puberty. This is because children become more responsive to excitatory neurotransmitters, making them more responsive to stressful events (Berk, 2010). Some common causes of eating disorders in children are low self-esteem, fear of becoming overweight, distress, or feelings of helplessness. Children dealing with any of these issues may develop an eating disorder as a way to cope with their problems and have control in at least one aspect of their life. This is why it is important that as a parent you always maintain a healthy relationship with your child and look out for any emotional or behavior changes that could signify an eating disorder.
Common Types of Eating Disorders
The two most prevalent eating disorders among adolescents are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
- Bulimia is more common among adolescents and is characterized by strict dieting and over-exercise, along with episodes of binge eating followed by vomiting or laxative abuse. Adolescents affected by bulimia nervosa are typically impulsive, senstation-seeking, and lack self-control in one or more areas of their lives. They usually feel depressed and guilty about their lifestyle and sincerely want help. In contrast, adolescents suffering from anorexia nervosa are much harder to treat because they are unaware of the severity of their problem (Berk, 2010).
- Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where teenagers starve themselves on order to avoid getting fat and obtain a state of perfect thinness. Anorexics put themselves on severely strict diets and partake in excessive exercise habits. A person battling anorixia nervosa can lose up to 50% of their body weight, yet still deny that they have a problem. Some of the symptoms are lack of menstrual cycle in females, brittle nails, pale skin, fine dark hair all over the body, and are always cold. Affected individuals are usually great students and perfectionists in all aspects of life. They have trouble forming relationships with people and opening up, making it difficult to treat anorexia (Berk, 2010).
Prevalance of Eating Disorders in Adolescence
Contrary to popular belief, both men and women are affected by eating disorders. However, excessive dieting and eating disorders are more prevalent in women over men (Lietchy & Lee, 2013). Bulimia is more common in adolescents than anorexia nervosa, affecting roughly 2-4% of teenage girls, while anorexia nervosa only affects about 1% of teenage girls (Berk, 2010). There has been a spike in the increase of cases during the past fifty years due to the influence of media, portraying ideal thinness and perfection (Berk, 2010).
Do eating behaviors during adolescence have a long-term impact on your child?
Lietchy and Lee (2013), conducted a study using statistical data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They looked at the effect of adolescent behavior on four health issues in young adulthood: dieting, extreme weight loss behaviors, binge eating, and eating disorder diagnosis. Based on the results of the study it can be concluded that early depression and dieting impact a person’s long term eating patterns. This is why it is extremely important that as a parent, you always maintain a close relationship with your child through the good and the bad. Teenagers are known for being over-dramatic and testy at times, but sometimes they are going through severe emotional turmoil with all the stress that accompanies puberty (Berk, 2010). If you detect your child is battling depression or an eating disorder, it is important to get them treatment in order to prevent it from becoming an issue that carries over into adulthood.
- Liechty, J. M., & Lee, M. (2013). Longitudinal predictors of dieting and disordered eating among young adults in the U.S. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 46(8), 790-800. doi:10.1002/eat.22174
- Berk, L. E. (2010). Development Through the Lifespan (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.