Worried about Your Teenager Having Eating Disorders?

Caroline Kelly

January 10, 2013

eating disorders

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Are you worried about your teenager and their eating habits or body image? Here, Sheila O’Malley from Practical Parenting has some tips for parents on the subject of teenagers and eating disorders.

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Ironically, as Ireland’s obesity rates increase, some battle with anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia are obsessed with food, weight and body shape and starve, or binge/purge to prevent weight gain. This disease is not about food, it’s a way you cope with emotional problems, perfectionism and a desire for control. Anorexia can be overcome, with the right help.

A quick look at the magazines that our teens read will confirm that there is an overemphasis on body image and a lack of positive female role models for our girls. According to Bodywhys (The Eating Disorder Association of Ireland) there are 400 new cases every year and eighty deaths nationally.

The majority of Irish adolescents feel adversely affected by media’s portrayal of body weight, with more than 25% believing it to be too thin, such as Victoria Beckham.

What is Anorexia – Can you see the Signs?

Anorexia usually starts with a desire to lose weight to improve appearance. Unfortunately, with the lost weight, body image distorts and the anorexic believes they need to lose more. Anorexia is about low self worth, taking control of an aspect of one’s life and choosing food because of its social and nurturing associations.

It may be seen as making a statement to the mother ‘I do not want you to control me any longer’. ‘Starved for love’ is often the term associated with this eating disorder as a person feels loved for what they do, but not who they are.

Anorexia may also be a fear of taking on responsibilities of adulthood, with the body returning to childlike proportions and is seen in those who have been ‘little parents’ from a young age. Relationships with important adults are the ’looking glass’ for a child and determine the self image that forms.

The strength of what we see is illustrated in the anorexic. Family get frustrated and scared witnessing the anorexic wasting away before their eyes and cannot understand why she cannot see this as well. The problem is that the internal self image of the person built in childhood, is much stronger that the image pointed out in the mirror.

What Can You Do To Help Your Teen?

unhappy-teen-girlIf you have a loved one you’re worried about, urge them to talk to a doctor. The family doctor will complete a physical and basic evaluation. He or she will refer the patient either onto a Nutritionist or Counselling/Psychotherapy to tackle the underlying emotional problems.

Therapy may be individual, family or group with an aim of helping the person gain higher self esteem and better eating habits.

Most anorexic’s can and do recover. For treatment to work; the person needs to really want to get better, this takes time and cannot be forced. Early intervention greatly improves the chance of a successful outcome. Severe cases may need hospitalization.

If you think your teen may have an eating disorder, get help. Remind yourself, they’re not in control anymore – the anorexia is.

You might also like When your Mother says she is Fat : Thoughts on Body Image

Tips for Recognising & Dealing with an Eating Disorder

  • Anorexia is not just about food
  • Anorexia is a sign of emotional distress
  • Negative messages from childhood erode self worth
  • Low self esteem is usual in anorexics
  • Media reinforces negative body images
  • Change can bring emotional distress, a person copes by catching onto something they can control, such as their eating
  • Watch for: extreme weight loss, absence of menstruation, excuses for not eating
  • It can be fatal, early intervention is best
  • If you are worried that your teen has an eating disorder – get help: www.bodywhys.ie
  • Are you worried about someone; let them know you’re concerned

Have you any tips for other parents on teens and eating disorders or anorexia in particular?  Share them in the comments below


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Published On: January 10th, 2013 / Categories: For Parents / Last Updated: April 19th, 2019 / Tags: , /

About the Author: Caroline Kelly

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Caroline is a mum of 2 and when not busy working is usually found on a Camogie pitch! She loves sport, reading and spending time being creative with her kids.

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