Eating Disorders in Children & Teens

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By Education Today

Posted on September 5, 2022


5 min read

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Eating Disorders in Children & Teens

“There is no sincere love than the love of food” is the famous words of George Bernard Shaw. How true! But when this love turns into addiction, it becomes a disorder! Eating disorders are considered by many to be lifestyle choices. But it is much more than that. Eating disorders is one of the psychological disorders which are caused by serious disturbances of eating behaviour. It can have life-threatening consequences on humans. These are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviours that negatively impact your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. 

Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape, and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviours. These behaviours can significantly impact your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth, and mouth, and lead to other diseases.

Signs and symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Anorexia nervosa: In anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa, some of the most common signs are frequent comments about weight/appearance, skipping meals, eating small portions, refusal to eat high-sugar, high-fat foods, overall restrictive food intake, and excessive exercise. Severe weight loss, fear of gaining weight, and severe body image disturbances are also warning signs of anorexia. 

Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia nervosa is categorized by a pattern of binge-eating followed by the use of compensatory behaviour, such as purging, fasting, laxative or diuretic use, and excessive exercise to prevent weight gain. 

Binge-eating disorder: Binge-eating disorder involves eating larger than normal portions of food in one sitting and the inability to stop oneself from eating excessively large portions.

ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) : ARFID is an eating disorder categorized by significant aversion to food based on sensory characteristics (texture), lack of interest in eating, or concern about aversive consequences of eating such as stomach pain, vomiting, or choking.

People with eating disorders experience many physical, social, and psychological problems. Physically, people with eating disorders are at a higher risk for medical conditions, including heart problems (such as heart attacks), metabolic disorders (such as diabetes), and reduced bone density (including osteoporosis). Some people with eating disorders will have a very low body mass index (BMI). BMI estimates one’s body fat, taking into account one’s height (in kilograms) and weight (in meters); larger BMI numbers indicate greater estimated body fat. Socially, the shame and guilt of eating disorders may result in isolation. Psychologically, people with eating disorders commonly experience anxiety and depression that make it difficult for them to function normally. 

Common consequences of eating disorders can be social, psychological, and physical. These consequences are very serious and early intervention is important to keep people healthy. If you are experiencing problems related to eating behaviors, then it is best to discuss your concerns with a trusted person so that you can get the help you need from medical and psychological professionals.

Social Consequences 

  • Canceling plans with friends to avoid food.
  • Comparing body weight/shape, eating habits, and/or exercise habits to friends 
  • Increased conflict with family or friends 
  • Social isolation 
  • Peer victimization (being bullied) 
  • Unhealthy social media usage 

Psychological Consequences 

  • Inappropriate focus on calories of food rules
  • High consideration of weight or shape for evaluating self-esteem 
  • Fear of becoming fat 
  • Other psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Memory problems 

Physical Consequences 

  • Cardiovascular: slowed irregular heart rate, heart attacks, heart failure 
  • Gastrointestinal: conception, bloating, stomach rupture 
  • Skin, Nails, Hair, and Teeth;  bruising easily, brittle nails, thin hair growth of fine hair on the body, tooth enamel damages 
  • Irregular periods or loss of periods 
  • Dizziness 
  • Increased risk of diabetes 
  • Reduced born density 

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, due to medical complications caused by the eating disorder and/or death by suicide. Thus, preventing the development of eating disorders and providing effective treatment is very important.

Eating disorders among children and adolescents have increased last few years, because of the influence of mass media. Today, more than ever, adolescents are prone to concerns about their weight, shape, size, and body image, and as a result, dieting to lose weight. These behaviours have been suggested as possible risk factors for the development of eating disorders. The media play a central role in creating and intensifying the phenomenon of body dissatisfaction and consequently, may be partly responsible for the increase in the prevalence of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are both medical and mental health disorders so it is incredibly difficult for children/teens to recover on their own. They need treatment and consistent support from their families. This means parents should not be afraid to closely monitor their child or teen’s eating behaviours. Parents should be ensuring their child is eating a variety of foods and obtaining adequate nutrition each day. Parents may have to use clever strategies to make sure their child is compliant with eating and not engaging in disordered eating behaviours. The child did not choose to have an eating disorder. As a parent or caregiver, you have to help the child fight the eating disorder. Parents and family are a critical component of recovery and should be closely involved in their child’s treatment.