Warning Signs of Teen Anorexia
Anorexia is a severe eating disorder that affects millions of American girls and boys. Teens who suffer from this disorder become obsessed with being thin and working out. They severely restrict their daily food intake, often eating as little as 200 calories a day. This disorder is incredibly dangerous and can result in many health concerns including heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility, and hair loss. Severe cases can even result in death. Parents who suspect that their son or daughter is suffering from anorexia should get them the proper medical and psychological help as soon as possible.
General Information on Anorexia
In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are currently suffering from an eating disorder. Teens (especially girls) are especially susceptible to developing anorexia, since they are under pressure from the media and from their peers to look perfect and to be very thin. Studies have shown that 78% of 17-year-old girls report that they are unhappy with their bodies and 45% of teen girls in America are on a diet at any one point in time.
This obsession with thinness can cause some girls to go to extreme measures to achieve an unattainable ideal. Studies have found that nearly 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls who are 15 to 19 years old and as many as 5% of teens are suffering from anorexia.
Anorexia does not just start overnight; it is a progressive process. There are warning signs associated with the disorder that often crop up over the course of a couple of months (or even years) before full-blown anorexia sets in. It is during this time period that it is critical for parents identify the warning signs and take the proper steps to get their child the help that they need.
Relationship with Food
The main warning signs of anorexia are a teens' relationship with food. Teens suffering from this disorder become obsessed with food. They obsessively count calories and spend hours analyzing their caloric intake and the nutritional information of the food that they eat. They begin to see food as the enemy and obsess relentlessly about the food they are (or are not) eating. Here are some specific warning signs parents should be on the lookout for:
- Severely limiting their daily food intake. When they do eat, consuming foods that are extremely low in calories and sugar.
- Making excuses for not eating regular meals.
- Talking about food obsessively in terms of nutritional information.
- Eating in secret out of shame and embarrassment.
Teens suffering from anorexia often develop unhealthy exercise habits. Even if teens led active lifestyles before developing the disorder, they may begin to take exercise to extremes that will often be easily recognizable as unhealthy. Look for these specific warning signs:
- Exercising an excessive amount; sometimes multiple hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Exercising early in the morning or late at night
- Insisting on exercising even when they are extremely tired.
- Exercising immediately after eating anything, even if they only ate something that had very few calories in it.
Behavioral changes are another warning sign of anorexia. Teens suffering from this disorder will often become moody and irritable and they may become angry over relatively small issues. They may become disinterested in things that they once loved and neglect things such as homework, friends and extracurricular activities. They might spend a significant amount of time alone in their room or exercising. They may avoid social situations or outings with friends and family. Other general behavioral warning signs to look for include:
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Distorted body image; seeing themselves as "fat" even though they are thin.
- A need to be perfect
Appearance and General Health
You can often tell if your teen is suffering from anorexia simply by noticing changes in their appearance and their general health. Look for these warning signs:
- Loss of menstrual periods in girls
- Thinning hair
- Dull skin/dark circles under eyes
- Tooth decay
- Significant weight loss in a short period of time
- Increased fatigue
- Sluggish behavior
Anorexia is a very serious disorder that can affect any teen, regardless of how 'together' or 'smart' they seem. There is no specific type of person who is particularly susceptible to developing this disorder; it can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, background or social status.
Anorexia can be very difficult to overcome, but it can be done. It is essential that parents of teens be on the lookout for the warning signs of anorexia and seek help the instant that they suspect that their child might have a problem. You can find information about kids' body image here.
Note: Opinions expressed in this guest post may not represent the views of Family Anatomy or its authors. Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only, and are not intended to replace professional or medical advice. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.