When thinking of the current status of adolescent eating disorders, one might wish they had the advice given over two thousand years ago. The Buddha is quoted, “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” Yet, the messaging given to adolescents today is a far cry from this age-old advice. That is why it is crucial to combat the current social climate of body shaming and help adolescents avoid, mitigate, and overcome eating disorders by any means necessary.
Adolescents often try to hide their eating disorders, but there are important signs that can help to access the diagnosis and help they need. While many healthcare professionals may try to treat eating disorders on their own, it is important to understand when a diagnosis requires more help than you can give them.
Warning Signs: What to Look For in Adolescent Eating Disorders
One of the first steps in helping adolescents with a potential eating disorder is being able to recognize the signs. This is often easier said than done because adolescents often try to hide their negative eating behaviors. It is also important to distinguish a potential eating disorder from something less severe like “disordered eating” or the more common poor eating habits often exhibited by teens.
Here are some, but not all, of the warning signs that an eating disorder may be present:
- A sallow appearance, which includes poor skin, hair loss, and extremely low body fat
- Excessive gastrointestinal problems
- Overuse of laxatives, weight loss teas, or over-the-counter stimulants to aid in weight loss
- Avoiding meals altogether
- Binge eating, followed by self-induced vomiting
- Organ failure
- Self-harm associated with body image
- Suicidal ideations associated with body image
- Suicide attempts associated with body image
If any of these signs are present, it is advised that you intervene immediately, but what happens if you do not have the tools or resources to help properly? In these cases, you should reach out to the right facility, center, or institution that can. Sustain Recovery can help with this.
Diagnosing an Adolescent Eating Disorder
If any of the previously mentioned warning signs are present, it is possible that a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder (ED) can be made. However, diagnosing an ED does not equal the ability to treat it. Also, an ED should not be definitively diagnosed by anyone other than a professional trained in this field.
Here are just a few of the specific diagnoses of eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa involves avoidance of food and a preoccupation with weight loss and body image
- Bulimia Nervosa involves the process of binging and purging food, either with vomiting or excessive laxative use
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the consumption of large amounts of food in short periods of time and is associated with a loss of control
- Orthorexia is an excessive preoccupation with “health” and the cutting out of an increasing number of food groups that are vital for normal body function (carbs, fats, or sugars, for example)
- Compulsive Exercise focuses on extreme amounts of exercise that interfere with daily life and create unhealthy levels of weight loss
While these are some specific EDs, it is also important to remember that they often coexist with other mental health issues. These comorbidities are yet another reason to ensure that you are getting an adolescent the proper care they need.
Dual Diagnosis: Comorbidities and Eating Disorders
Often, EDs don’t simply arise from the act of ingesting food itself. Rather, they often stem from more deeply rooted mental or emotional issues.
These issues may include childhood trauma, anxiety or depression, or a number of other mood disorders (obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder, for example). EDs may also be accompanied by other disorders that arise from the previously mentioned problems.
EDs have been shown to be accompanied often by alcohol and substance use disorders (SUD). This is because both illicit substance use and eating disorders can be used as a “quick fix solution” to these deeper-rooted problems.
It is because these comorbidities often exist that proper care must be sought out. For example, if you can treat one of the mental health or eating disorders but not the other, then the risk is that neither of the disorders is adequately being treated or resolved.
Finding and Administering the Best Care
EDs, including those with comorbidities, need to be detected, diagnosed, and treated as soon as possible. The reality of EDs is that they can have life-long negative effects and can even be fatal if not treated properly.
If you do not feel like you can adequately treat an ED, it is crucial that you find professional help that can. Sustain Recovery can be that help because no child should needlessly suffer any longer than they have to.
More often than not, an eating disorder exists with one or more other disorders. That is why it is critical to gain a better understanding of the exact disorder the adolescent is experiencing. Depending on the behavior and symptoms, the child may need more help than a certain facility or treatment center can offer. It is important to get a proper diagnosis so that the best treatment and care can be administered. This will give the child the best chance at recovery. We have the resources to help you better understand and treat EDs with comorbidities. We invite you to inquire about what we can offer. Please contact Sustain Recovery at (949) 407-9052 for more information.