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An eating disorder is described as abnormal, irregular eating habits and extreme concern about one’s body weight or shape.
It is important to note, that it is possible for a young person to exhibit unhealthy eating habits and/ or maintain unhealthy concerns regarding his or her body, while not meeting the diagnosable requirements of a true eating disorder. There are several different types of eating disorders. The most common types of eating disorders include: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. The exact cause of eating disorders remains unknown, but it has been indicated that a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors can contribute the development of eating disorders in young people. With proper support, eating disorders are highly treatable, and a teenager can go on to live a happy life as well as have a healthy relationship with food.
Anorexia is when an adolescent avoids eating and when he or she does eat attempts to control the quantity and quality of their food in an obsessive manner. Frequently, teens suffering from anorexia will become incredibly thin, but will have a distorted self-view and still think of themselves as overweight. There is a strong connection between Body Dysmorphia (BDD) and anorexia. BDD is similar to anorexia in that young people maintain an intense, erroneous, and unhealthy preoccupation with their physical appearances and body image. Some examples of the behaviors exhibited by a young person with anorexia can include any combination of the following:
• Excessive exercise
• Social withdrawal
• Hiding and/ or throwing out food
• Distorted view of one’s shape and/ or size
• Developing rituals surrounding food preparation and eating
• Obsessively counting calories
• Noticeable emotional changes
Every teenager is different and has the propensity to exhibit differing symptoms of anorexia. It is important to note, that adolescents with anorexia frequently not only restrict their food intake, but also restrict pleasurable experiences, such as social activities and spending time with friends.
Bulimia is a when a teenager has regular episodes of bingeing (excessive and uncontrollable overeating) followed by purging (vomiting, laxatives, enemas, fasting, or excessive exercise). Though binges can happen at any point during the day, they most frequently occur in the evening and night hours so as to draw less attention. Several examples of behaviors of young people with bulimia are as follows:
• Odd eating habits
• Eating disproportionately large amounts of food without weight gain
• Regular trips to the bathroom immediately following a meal
• Impulsive behaviors
• Excessive exercise
• Abuse of laxatives or diuretics
• Hiding foods
• Self-induced vomiting causing calluses and/ or scaring on one’s hands
Young people with bulimia are typically preoccupied with the shape and weight of their body. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) indicates that for a clinical diagnosis of bulimia, a teenager must binge and purge an average of once a week for a minimum of three consecutive months. Adolescents with bulimia are frequently overlooked because they are often able to maintain a normal body weight.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is when a young person engages in uncontrollable excessive eating, which is followed by extreme feelings of guilt and shame. Signs that can present themselves in teenagers suffering from binge eating disorder include, but are not limited to the following examples:
• Eating as a coping mechanism for stress
• Constant experimentation with different diets
• Eating rapidly
• Eating exceedingly large amounts of food over a short period of time
Adolescence is a trying time in one’s life and young people experience it differently. Binge eating can manifest in a teenager due to his or her feelings of a lack of control, which is why many eat when they are not hungry, in secret. Akin to bulimia, the DSM-5 indicates that for a mental health professional to diagnose binge eating disorder, the adolescent must binge an average of once a week for a minimum of three consecutive months. It is highly common for young people with binge eating disorder to be overweight.
At Pacific Teen Treatment, we create tailored treatment plans for each of our residents. In addition to the various therapeutic treatment modalities (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, talk therapy, expressive arts therapy, relaxation technique…etc.), young people struggling with eating disorders will receive additional specialized care. The goal is to help the young person find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. Each teenager is different and will require a nuanced treatment plan. Depending on the teen’s specific needs Pacific Teen Treatment offers regular meetings with a nutritionist, daily meal plans, meal buddies, post meal one on one meeting, and more.
In some cases disordered eating behaviors present as a physical manifestation of other mental and/ or emotional struggles. Taking advantage of the free consultation that we offer at Pacific Teen Treatment can be very helpful in a parent’s search for obtaining the proper support and guidance for their struggling teenager. If, however, it turns out that we are not the best fit, we will help refer you to an appropriate facility to address an eating disorder that may require a higher level of care than we are equipped to provide.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Seeking support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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