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Eating Disorders and your Teenager

29/10/2012 16:24

“I am angry that I starved my brain and that I sat shivering in my bed at night instead of dancing or reading poetry or eating ice cream or kissing a boy...”  Laurie Halse Anderson.


Eating disorders are on the rise. According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), the rate of hospital admissions for the treatment of eating disorders has increased by 16% over the last year. These include;

·       Orthorexia (a need for pure and healthy foods, disimilar to anorexia and not yet recognised by the DSM IV)

·       Anorexia Nervosa (an addiction to not- eating)

·       Pica (the desire or strong urge to eat non-food items, even sharp objects)

·       Binge-Eating (eating large amounts, often without control)

·       Bigorexia (the need or uncontrollable desire to increase body muscle in any way, taking supplements and/or steroids)

·       Body dysmorphic disorder (are convinced they have bad teeth, are ugly, fat and bad odor)

·       Obesity (currently under debate for classification as an eating disorder, being dangerously underweight and being unable to change that due to an emotional attachment to food)

·       Bulimia (characterised by binge cycles with the addition of self-induced vomiting to purge)

At least 1.6 million people in the UK suffer with some kind of eating disorder. 91% of these admissions were female. Men who have eating disorders are often unfairly told it’s a “fad” or “phase”, and this is why it is important to be able to recognise the signs and know if your teenage son or daughter is having trouble with their eating. There is much more emphasis on the female body in society and media today, increasing the pressure on young girls for that “perfect body”, but it is not unknown for men to also fall into this trap.

If you are concerned about your child or teenager, the University of Michigan Health System advices that you use their BODY MASS INDEX CALCULATOR to plot trends for your child, which not only will confirm that your worries have any truth behind them, but will let you know in general whether or not your child/teen is at a healthy weight.

Other signs you can look for in your child include; strenuous exercise (more than one hour), hoarding or hiding food, eating in secret, disappearing after eating (particularly the bathroom), dizziness, feeling cold, wearing baggy clothes, slightly yellow skin, and in females, disruptions/changes in the menstrual cycle.

How  to Approach the Your Teen with their Eating Disorder

·       Do not get angry or upset – wait until you are composed, then approach them gently, maybe with a cup of tea, and use statements with “I” in them such as “I am worried about you, because you haven’t eaten any lunch today”.

·       Wait to hear they say about that – they may be embarrassed or ashamed, or may not actually see it as a problem.

·       You may have to approach them several times – they might get mad and deny what you’re saying, and chances are this is because they feel out of control. Be patient with them. Give them lots of opportunities to talk to you,   just by asking “Is everything okay?” and giving them time to talk.

·       Keep an eye on your teens internet use – There are lots of Pro-Anorexia networking sites such as “Thinspiration” or “Skinnyville” e.g. warning these link may contain upsetting images or

Keep faith and try hard to communicate with your child. Chances are they will open up to you, and you’ll be able to get them the help that they need by either a trip to the doctor, contacting a local dietician, or find counselling in your area.

Good luck! And don’t worry. These problems can be fixed.

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