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Eating Disorders in Teenagers

July 13, 2013

Eating disorders entail unhealthy beliefs and behaviors surrounding the issues of weight, shape and food intake. While we all worry about our weight at times, people with eating disorders go to extremes to avoid weight gain, resulting in practices that can be harmful and ultimately fatal.

There are several classifications of eating disorders, but the most common are anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN).

There are other variants of disordered eating that do not meet the diagnostic criteria for AN or BN, which are classified as “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” (EDNOS) or referred to as Eating Disturbances. One of these is binge eating (without purging), which is often associated with obesity. All forms of disordered eating should be treated as soon as recognized for best chance of recovery.

Out of Control Dieting Behaviors
Surveys show that over half of girls between 12 and 15 years old list appearance as a major concern in their lives. Almost as many girls are-or think they should be-on a diet.

Why are dieting behaviors so prevalent among teenaged girls? One reason is that there is strong sociocultural pressure on females to achieve a certain size and shape. But that size and shape is unrealistic-and unattainable-for most women. In fact, if a woman had proportions similar to a Barbie Doll, she would be 6 feet tall and weigh only 101 pounds!

Added to the pressure of being bombarded with images of underweight actresses and other celebrities on television and airbrushed pictures of models in magazines is the fact that girls undergo a normal increase in body fat during puberty. This may lead to accelerated concerns about not measuring up, a distorted body image, and eventually even risky behaviors, such as restrictive dieting, purging, and excessive exercising.

What can a parent do to prevent teen dieting from spiraling out of control? The most important thing is to listen. If your teen believes that she’s overweight and you don’t agree, ask her why she thinks she needs to lose weight. This will guide you in knowing how to talk with her.

If necessary, make an appointment with a doctor or nutritionist to evaluate whether her weight is appropriate for height, and if not, to discuss a healthy eating plan for weight loss. Most teens that have just a few pounds to lose can easily do so by eating a wide variety of foods with attention to low fat choices, increased whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Regular exercise helps, too. The doctor or nutritionist can also help your child to understand why fad diets, skipping meals, or taking diet pills don’t work-and can even be dangerous.