Anorexia and bulimia are commonly the first terms we think about when we hear “eating disorder.” However, there are other food-related challenges that can be associated with anxiety symptoms. Some examples being binge eating disorder, rumination disorder, orthorexia, and compulsive exercise. As a practice, we are seeing an increase in teens that are experiencing diagnosable eating disorders or eating disorder behaviors since the pandemic began. There are
multiple reasons why we are seeing an increase in these behaviors. One being that teens lost a routine in a blink of an eye with the shift to virtual schooling and increase in uncertainty of the future. Also, those who struggle with eating disorders have long been linked with high achievement and perfectionism. Put a driven teenager that poured energy into their academics or athletics in a situation where they suddenly have too much time and they may focus their
energy on being productive with healthy eating or getting in shape.
These inconsistencies may have increased anxiety and stress in teenagers. Even as adults, when we experience feelings of overwhelm or our anxiety increases, we seek for ways to cope. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors like restricting, fasting, smoking cigarettes, or vomiting and taking laxatives. These types of coping skills can make a teen feel more in control or trick them to believe they are feeling less anxious and stressed.
What are some symptoms to look out for?
• Distorted and inaccurate body image
• Skipping one or most meals frequently
• Unusual eating patterns: overeating or decrease in amount of food consumed
• Hiding food
• Frequent weighing self
• Extreme weight change
• Erosion of tooth enamel
• Increase in dental cavities
• Loss of hair
• Skin rashes or sudden dry skin
• Nails appear poor
• Hyperactivity and high interest in exercise
How can you support your teen if you notice these symptoms or behaviors?
• Speak with your teen in an empathetic and non-confrontational way.
• Express concerns about any changes you have seen such as with the above symptoms.
• Discuss messages that may be reinforcing the above behaviors.
• Promote and model a healthy body image.
• Explore the dangers of dieting and emotional eating together.
Disordered eating and diagnosed eating disorders can be life threatening if there is no treatment. Depending on the severity of the behaviors, your teen my need a high level of care such as partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient services. We can provide resources to you if you are needing some direction. If the severity is treatable in our practice we can support your teen with the collaborative care of their primary physician, a psychiatrist, and a registered dietician. As a team, we collaborate to provide your teen with the best treatment we can! If we recognize it is out of our scope of practice, we will discuss that with you all and explore referral options. We can be a support to you and your teen throughout the process whether as your therapist or as a connective resource.