In today's diet-saturated and fitness-obsessed culture, it may be difficult to tell what is behind your teen's sudden desire to lose weight or newfound interest in "healthy" eating. As a parent it can be challenging to discern whether you teenager is suffering from an eating disorder, especially because these disorders often thrive on secrecy and silence. The following are some common warning signs that may signify that your teenager is struggling with an eating disorder.
1. Eating rituals or strange eating behaviors.
One sign to look out for is if you teen has started to adopt eating rituals or strange eating behaviors. Eating rituals include behaviors such as, cutting food into tiny pieces, arranging food in certain patterns, or constantly measuring food. Other eating rituals could include using the same utensils or only eating foods in a specific order.
These rituals could be warning signs of anorexia nervosa and could also be an early sign of binge eating disorder. It is important to note that the presence of rituals alone doesn't necessary indicate an eating disorder, but is something to consider in the context of the person's other behaviors and attitudes towards food and weight.
2. Excessive or unusual use of condiments and beverages.
Another sign of a potential eating disorder is if your teenager is using condiments/and or beverages in a way that is excessive or strange. For instance, if you notice that your teen is using an excessive amount of mustard, salt, or other spices on their food that would be one red flag that they might be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder.
Additionally, a warning sign that your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating is if they begin abusing beverages, such as diet sodas or coffee in an attempt to feel full.
3. Preoccupation with weight, body size and food.
Other warning signs to look out for is if your teen suddenly appears preoccupied with thoughts of their weight, body size, and food. Further, if your teen decides that they are dramatically changing their eating habits-it is important to take note and to observe their motivation and the rigidity of their diet and exercise habits.
Other red flags could be if they appear to stick to only a few "safe foods," hoard food, cook elaborate meals for others but do not eat them, or go to the bathroom frequently right after eating.
4. Isolating themselves from people or becoming less interested in things they previously enjoyed.
Another indicator of a teen who may be struggling with an eating disorder is if they become socially withdrawn and start to isolate themselves. It is a warning sign that there may be a deeper problem if your teen no longer desires to socialize and instead is consumed with researching recipes, going to the gym, and/or talking about food, calories, or dieting. When someone is struggling with an eating disorder often their eating disorder becomes their primary relationship and begins to take the place of the real relationships in their life. An eating disorder sufferer in recovery exemplified this point when she stated,
"It was almost as if I had created this secret life of rigid routines and the deeper I fell into my disorder, the more uncomfortable I became in social situations. The primary focus in my life had become my eating disorder, which didn't leave any room for outside relationships. Year after year I continued to push more and more people out of my life because the eating disorder became more important."
Unfortunately diet-culture, the thin ideal standard of beauty, and disordered eating habits are prevalent in our society. However, if you suspect that your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder it is critical that you reach out to a treatment professional-preferably one who specializes in eating disorders-who can properly assess them. It is also important to note that you cannot determine whether an individual is struggling with an eating disorder based upon their weight. Eating disorders do not discriminate and those who are struggling may come in all shapes and sizes.
Additionally, early intervention is important to regards to helping people to fully recover from eating disorders. Therefore, the earlier that you can have them evaluated-the better. It is critical that you approach them with compassion and support-rather than judgment. They are not making the choice to feel and behave this way, but with the right support they can begin to work towards recovery.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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