From The Daniel Island News
7 Early Signs of a Teenage Eating Disorder
By Maria Rudder
Aug 14, 2013 - 9:28:11 AM
Eating disorders are nine times more likely to occur in females than males, and teenage girls are especially at risk because dieting is often the social norm. Parents may ask how they can distinguish between normal dieting and weight concerns in their teenage daughter and early signs of anorexia nervosa, a mental health condition characterized by distorted body image and potentially dangerous weight loss? Here are seven early signs to watch for:
One: Drastic changes in eating habits or food choices. For example all of a sudden becoming a vegan out of the blue with no other reason behind it or new rituals around food. Only eating one thing for a meal, eating the same food at every meal over and over, chewing every bite a set number of times. Things that seem random and unrelated to anything else going on. Sometimes it all starts with a misconception that beginning an extreme diet fad or adopting a new preference will be the miracle way to lose weight or control weight. Becoming an anorexic or bulimic isn’t a conscious choice it usually evolves over time.
Two: Drastic and lasting changes in friendships. Eating disorders are even more prone to being kept secret than drug or alcohol use even with teens. Experimenting with drugs and or alcohol can be a way to fit in and a way to be cool and are not uncommon. Eating disorders are much more of a private issue and are not considered cool. Groups of girls don’t sit around and binge and purge or talk to each other about how little they can eat and still survive. If your daughter suddenly changes friends, drops or is dropped by her best friends something is going on. If the changes are lasting it’s a sign that something has drastically changed with one of the friends.
Three: Obsessive talk or preoccupation with food and sudden opinions about what is “good” and “bad.” If meals become uncomfortable for everyone because of the obsession over bad foods or what everyone eats or how much anyone eats. Learning about the health implications and deciding to pick up healthy eating habits and wanting to share this with everyone can be normal but when it’s an obsession and preoccupation beyond meal prep or meal time then it’s become an issue.
Four: Withdrawing from family and friends and spending excessive amounts of time alone. When the need for privacy seems abnormal it probably is. Secrecy is key to an eating disorder. Calorie counting and restriction take time and effort and binging is a very secret thing. So early warning signs can include sudden changes in how much privacy is demanded and the reaction to having that taken away or interrupted. If a girl is binging and purging then nothing is going to stand in the way of her ritual and she will have extreme reactions to being interrupted or delayed.
Five: Sudden participation in purchasing food or requests to prepare meals and/or eat meals in private. Again, privacy is a big factor. If you notice your daughter suddenly purchasing her own food and preparing her own meals and requesting to eat them in private, that could be a sign that she’s covering up habits or choices that she doesn’t want anyone to see.
Six: Sudden irritability and lack of interest in what used to be important things. Withdrawing from school activities or group activities with friends out of lack of confidence or lack of control over meals especially can be a warning sign.
Seven: If something feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t ignore the early signs by explaining them away as just normal teenage behavior.
Maria Rudder (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a concerned parent who suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager, weighing only 80 pounds when she was hospitalized at age 17. She has since made a full recovery. She writes about eating disorders from a personal perspective in order to help shed light on this “secret addiction.” In a future DI News column, she will advise parents on how to help a child with an eating disorder.
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