With 95% of those with eating disorders being between the ages of 12 and 25 (SAMHSA), it is important to have knowledge on how to detect and best support a teen or young adult that may be engaging in disordered behaviors or has developed an eating disorder. If you are a parent or a caretaker of someone who you believe is struggling, you may be wondering what are some signs and symptoms that there is an issue that needs to be intervened on.
First things first, eating disorders are complex illnesses and have many contributing factors including psychological, biological and social factors. So whether or not your loved one has struggled with food or body image in the past, adolescence can be a time where they become vulnerable to developing an disordered eating patterns.
why TEENS are susceptible to developing eating disorders
Although an eating disorder can develop at any point in ones life, teens can be extremely susceptible to engaging in disordered eating behaviors. According to one study, over one half of teenage girls and nearly one third of teenage boys reported engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors. The pressure to control or lose weight or becoming preoccupied with body size or appearance can be a result of many things. Some potential triggers could include messages from the media, certain activities they are involved in that have a focus on appearance or weight, or being exposed to dieting at a young age. Disordered behaviors that they are engaging in may be their way to cope with family stress, academic stress, bullying, peer pressure and other distressing circumstances they are feeling overwhelmed by.
why college students are susceptible to developing eating disorders
Often times college students may return home exhibiting behaviors that may indicate a struggle around food, weight and body. This does not come as a surprise with full blown eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age (Hudson, 2007).
Starting college comes with many changes as it is a time where students are exposed to freedom and independence for the first time, especially around food choices if they are no longer living at home. This can be a difficult challenge if there are weight and body image concerns affecting their relationship with food. Along with that, college can be a big transition and potentially stressful between balancing academic, social and/or athletic demands. These stressors and responsibilities can become a major trigger to begin using eating disordered behaviors or if the student is predisposed to developing anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
how to know if its a problem
In our society there is often a normalized focus on food and weight so it can be hard to tell when these seemingly ’normal’ behaviors have become something more. There are a number of signs indicating that dieting and weight concerns have taken a more serious turn, and may have manifested into an eating disorder. For a child who has been reducing calories, skipping meals, avoiding certain foods or going long periods of time without food, there may be an evident weight decrease - but this is not always the case.
We suggest looking for signs and behaviors outside of changes in weight or physical appearance. Things such as as avoiding social situations surrounding food, being rigid around eating, exercising excessively, often disappearing after meals, which may indicate potential purging, or being preoccupied with food can all serve as tell tale signs that their actions may be more than just being “healthy." These behaviors can all provide red flags that their relationship to food, weight and their body is now at a level of high distress and needs some attention.
How To Help
There are several things a parent or caretaker can do to help their child toward recovery. First, gently and with great empathy and concern, you can try to express your concern to your child and see if they are willing to talk about what might be going on. Note – most people have shame around their disordered eating or eating disorder and they may deny that there is a problem.
Be prepared that your child may become angry upon brining the topic up. But in the long run, if they are able to get help, they will be forever grateful to you that you saw the signs and did something to help them when perhaps they couldn’t do that for themselves.
Lastly, aiding in getting your child professional help is absolutely crucial. Those struggling with eating disorders can greatly benefit from seeking professional help along with the support of family and loved ones. With the right support and treatment, your child find health and long-lasting recovery.
Balance Summer Programs for Teens & College Students
As Summer approaches, BALANCE is pleased to offer Summer programs for teens and college students off from school. The Summer allows those struggling to focus on recovery and build coping skills to bring with them into the new school year. Our Summer programs for Teens & College Students are designed to meet the developmental needs of adolescents and young adults struggling with eating disorders. By offering summer-specific programming, we provide adolescents and college students extra support while keeping them close to home.
Our programs are ideal for teens in need of intensive eating disorder support during their school summer break or before heading off to college. These programs are also tailored to accommodate the needs of college students at home from school during the summer.
- Offers individualized care in a small, intimate group setting
- Integrative approach including DBT skills, art & drama therapy, yoga, nutrition education, group therapy, and family support including multi-family groups
- Meal support and exposure therapy including restaurant excursions
- Weekly nutrition and case management sessions
- Customized treatment plan with a combination of individual, group & family services
- Ongoing collaboration and referral back to primary treatment team members
- Flexible schedule options:family therapy or additional individual nutrition may be added to boost level of care
- Seasonal experiential activities include outdoor yoga, art in the park, picnics, and other outings
If you would like to learn more about our Summer programs, please fill out the form below.