There are various warning signs of anorexia that indicate that your teen might be at risk for developing this life-threatening eating disorder. Learn how to spot the warning signs of anorexia early to give your child the best chance at recovery.
Warning Signs for Your Teen that They Might be at Risk for Developing Anorexia Nervosa
Teens are particularly at risk for developing eating disorders. Being aware of the various warning signs of anorexia can help you prepare for the possibility of helping your teen recover from this life-threatening disorder.
Puberty and the teen years are a risky time in general for young adults. Their bodies are changing, their brains are still developing, they’re hyper-concerned with how their peers perceive them, and their mental health is more vulnerable and fragile. Peer pressure is also a concern, as your child might engage in risky behavior due to the social concerns they may have about fitting in. Considering all of these factors, it’s no wonder why many teens experience their first mental illness during these early teen years.
Additionally, many teens are hyper-aware of their bodies and acutely aware of their budding sexuality. Their physicality becomes extremely important, especially if they experience appearance-based bullying. Kids can be cruel, and when you acknowledge this within the context of diet culture, many children begin to believe that they must change their bodies to conform to the societal ideal in order to be accepted. For some, this combination of physical expectations and mental health pressure can develop into disordered eating or even a full-blown eating disorder.
As a parent, this can be a particularly demanding and stressful time. Not only are you dealing with the mood swings that come along with the teen years, but you are also balancing giving your teen more autonomy and independence while they are still developing their critical thinking skills. Though you want to give your teen the opportunity to become their own person—the exploration of identity is critical at this point in a child’s development—you may also be concerned that giving they too much leeway could open an opportunity for them to make a poor decision that might put them in danger.
In general, being an overbearing parent is not well-tolerated by teens, and research shows us that overbearing parenting styles can contribute to your teen developing high levels of anxiety and depression. That being said, keeping an eye out for some warning signs is always a good idea. There are certain behaviors that indicate that there might be something to be concerned about in regards to developing anorexia.
Some warning signs that your teen might be at risk for developing anorexia include:
Rapid weight loss, especially for teens who are not historically in smaller bodies
If your teen is suddenly losing a significant amount of weight, especially if they have historically been in a larger body, there might be some potential concerns. Historically, when kids in larger bodies lose any amount of weight, we as a society praise them. A child’s personal doctor may even encourage weight loss.
Despite the missteps the medical community has made regarding eating disorder treatment, we now know that anorexia can occur in bodies of all sizes. We also know that children who start out in larger bodies are often less likely to get the treatment that they need because of preconceived notions regarding weight and health. If your child is rapidly losing weight, pay attention. It does not automatically mean that they are engaging in eating-disordered behaviors, but it could be the first piece of the puzzle.
More intense food requirements, including adopting a restrictive diet of some kind
Because we live in diet culture, there are often new fad diets or popular dietary patterns that take center stage. Depending on what the most trendy diet is at the moment, your teen might be drawn towards a vegan diet, a gluten-free diet, a keto diet, and more. While some of these dietary patterns are not inherently disordered, they often act as a smokescreen for restrictive eating.
For other children, there might be existing pickiness with their eating. If this picky eating becomes more intense, or your teen becomes even more highly agitated when their eating preferences are unable to be accommodated, this might be a sign that their behavior with food is becoming more disordered and rigid.
Increased concern and dissatisfaction with what their bodies look like
Teens are often preoccupied with their bodies for various reasons, including the intense body changes and hormonal shifts that they experience during this time period. Peer pressure and diet culture help to make this preoccupation even more profound. If your teen becomes so distressed by their body that they are experiencing extreme anxiety, including avoiding social situations because of their shame regarding their body, this might be a sign that they are struggling with more-than-typical body preoccupation.
What to do as a Parent if Your Child is Displaying these Anorexia Warning Signs
None of these warning signs, by themselves, indicate that your child is developing anorexia. But together, and in conjunction with genetic predisposition and other temperamental characteristics such as perfectionism, these warning signs can be a cause for concern.
If you are worried that your teen might be struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia, know that the sooner they get the treatment, the better their treatment outcome. Your teen does not have to suffer in silence or struggle with disordered eating their whole lives. They can access treatment, engage with recovery, and become well-adjusted young adults with bright futures.
About the Author
Ashley M. Seruya is a social work student, virtual assistant, and content creator specializing in eating disorder recovery, Health at Every Size, and weight stigma. Learn more about her work at ashleymseruya.com or on her Instagram at @fatpositivetherapy.
Link to original blog post: https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/warning-signs-your-teen-might-be-struggling-with-anorexia/
Enjoy these other Center for Discovery blog posts:
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Why are teens experiencing mental health issues at higher rates? It’s TMI Times 5!Read Now
Why are teens experiencing mental health issues at higher rates? It’s TMI Times 5!
May 22,2021 / Jeff Long, Co-founder of Teens4Teens Help, author of "A Parent's Guide to Anorexia"
Teens, they’re great aren’t they?
Your beautiful child has a birthday and is suddenly a teen. Your compliant darling child is starting to change. They can be more emotional, sarcastic, hungry, horny, and well, just difficult invaders in our households, right? They’re bouncing off us and boundaries to find their identity, just like we did.
How many of us were teens? Oh, yeah, all of us.
Do you remember how stupid you thought your parents were and that only other teens really knew what was going on?
Teens are in a life stage of rejecting their parents and authority figures and discovering their own identity by testing it with their peers and the world.
All the while their brains are under construction, that’s right, from tween to 25 it's under construction, super powered with new hormones and uncontrolled by the lack of a fully developed frontal lobe - where impulse control resides.
Have you ever lived in a house where your kitchen was being remodeled? It’s like that, only it’s in your head, during the time you are having the most intense feelings you’ll experience in your life.
When we were teens we were told things like, “just suck it up,” “just tough it out,” “that’s how life is.” Can you think of another golden oldie you were told?
So why are teens experiencing mental health issues at rates never seen before in our country’s history? Well, our teens today are really growing up in a very different world than we did.
Why? It’s TMI, times 5!
It’s Too Much information, Too Much isolation, Too much internet, Too Much indoors, and Too Much intensity. Let’s break this down a little further.
TMI - Too Much information, the 24/7 news, too many channels, websites, games, FOMO, just too much for young developing brains. Do you remember hearing, “just go outside and play”?
TMI - Too Much isolation, lack of tribe & community, not just because of the pandemic, we humans are tribes people, you’ve heard - “it takes a village”, it does, but now families are transient for work and education and most often not with extended families and tight knit communities. All our screens further isolate us, teens interact less in person and more on screens which actually reduces learning social skills and recognizing facial and emotional cues and thus increases anxiety.
TMI - Too much internet, again with the too much screen time, news, information, the addiction of social media and its many negative outcomes, cyber bullying, too much sitting/lack of movement which can lead to depression, the blue screen light disrupts sleep, causing lack of sleep, and teens need 9-11 hours of sleep for their brains to refresh and develop.
TMI - Too Much indoors, lack of nature, connection to the natural world, sunshine, vitamin-d, literal grounding, get your feet in the sand and your eyes in the sky, exercise, outdoor activity helps you get better sleep. The lack of whole foods, too many processed foods (snacks foods) that have been established to have many negative physical and emotional effects. It has been shown that treatment with nutrition can be as effective as prescription meds for many mental health issues.
TMI - Too Much intensity, stress for college acceptance, job competition, the future, climate change and all the implications, the Texas size island of plastics floating in the pacific ocean, the political, racial, and economic divides. This generation was born after 911, with terrorist’s killing citizens on US soil, mass and school shootings, the greatest depression since the great depression – the economic mortgage meltdown, and now the pandemic! It's just too much.
So is it any wonder our teens are experiencing a mental health crisis, and that some of the most sensitive among them will end up being our creative innovators, our artists, our empathetic leaders, teachers, and healers.
They need your support, become a force of hope, help, inspiration, and recovery.
Go to www.teens4teenshelp.org
Connecting or not Connecting...this is the question!
Prior to the COVID pandemic, new research came out on Loneliness. It showed how prevalent it is, with a 40% increase from the 1980s and…who knows how much more since we have been in quarantine. The data states that people who suffer from loneliness appear to have shorter lifespans comparing their mortality rate to be equivalent to the mortality rate of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and greater than the mortality impact of obesity and sedentary living. This information leads to many implications that would be helpful to us as both adults and parents of tweens, teens and young adults…we are all struggling.
A new book was published in April of this year called “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” by Dr. Vivek Murthy, Former US Surgeon General. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at a conference called Wisdom 2.0 on March 5th, 2020 in San Francisco, one week before quarantine. He explored how loneliness is a key factor in many mental and physical illnesses.
There are many contributing factors to Loneliness and today we will look at 3 of them with a few solutions. They are: 1.One’s Perceptions, 2.Interaction with Technology and 3.COVID.
One’s perceptions are key. Does one perceive having enough connections? Are those connections meaningful? Is there a desire for certain people or types of relationships and is that desire or need not being met…from a family member or special friends? Our society states that success is based on work rather than deep emotional connection in relationships. We know that value not to be the case. A remarkable study led by Naomi Eisenberger, an associate professor of social psychology at UCLA, found that feeling excluded, triggered activity in some of the same regions of the brain that register physical pain. This can be a real or even perceived exclusion.
This takes us to the 2nd contributing factor, which is one’s interaction with technology. Technology can either connect or isolate. People might see themselves as excluded through social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram…for example, when a picture shows a group getting together and others can then see that they weren’t included. This can be painful and cause someone to feel lonely or left out. People who feel lonely may see that they have 500 “friends” but don’t feel like they have a real connection, a real friend. Someone whom they can call up if they’re sick and need a meal delivered. According to Dr. Delaney Ruston in her 2016 documentary “Screenagers” she says teens spend 6.5 hours a day on screens and in 2019 when her documentary “Screenagers Next Chapter” came out, experts at Common Sense Media reported the screen time to have increased to 9 hours per day. With so much time on screens, no wonder we feel lonely. And then there is the quality of time with others…are we texting and emailing? Or are we calling people? Are we present? Or distracted and multi-tasking while connecting? Often these are not satisfying connections…and speaking about satisfying connections…
The last factor, which is COVID puts the idea of connection into a whole other arena. We are mandated to “socially isolate”. This term and forced condition of life can present strong feelings of separation and loneliness. We aren’t able to have personal, one on one, satisfying connections with friends and outside family members, no hugs or touches which is an important factor when it comes to connection and squelching feelings of loneliness.
So given these real and perceived daily factors, they may feel the scope and value of their lives are shrinking. Here are some ways to help them expand, rebuild, find purpose and most importantly form meaningful connections.
In regards to how one perceives their life, focus can be given to prioritize how they want to live their lives, who they want to spend their virtual time and energy with, how they can connect with others in meaningful ways and what they want to do with their time. This is where we can discuss healthy choices like exercise, meditation, nutrition, social skills to connect with others and creating schedules of when to achieve these goals, which I have found to be especially useful with tweens and teens.
Technology, just 12 months ago was of big concern. Now it’s the lifeline to friends, family, work, education, therapy, social interactions and so much more. The way screens are designed, the brain finds many apps and interactions highly stimulating and potentially addicting so there needs to be a balance.
There are many lectures and classes, Virtual Meetups, meetings on Zoom, Book clubs and so much more. But also due to screen fatigue and dependence on electronics, Cooper Anderson and Jon Kabat Zin, in an interview, shared that meditation can be a wonderful break from devices and good for our mental health … and physical health as well.
Finally, some positive options during COVID and social distancing can be intentional personal development…spending more time in nature, trying new things, implementing art and home projects (thanks to YouTube and Pinterest) and doing community service. There are food banks that offer drive thru pick up, like West Valley Food Pantry or making calls to the elderly with an organization called Uplifting Today. This can facilitate a sense of purpose and connections.
Let’s help our loved ones’ physical and emotional health, by sharing with them the importance of connection and the liabilities of loneliness and disconnection. This is crucial now more than ever before. We could be adding years to one’s life by guiding them to connect…REALLY CONNECT!
by Stephanie Bien, LMFT, LPCC
HELP! My kid is driving me crazy because she…
• Is disorganized
• Never cleans her room
• Is always late
• Avoids getting started on homework
• Puts school projects off until the last minute
• Has no sense of time
• Refuses to write down her assignments in her planner
• Doesn’t care about her work and just rushes to get it done
• Forgets to submit schoolwork
• Resists my help
Executive Function has become the current buzzword and more and more parents are reporting that their children have executive function problems and an inability to monitor and control their own behavior and impulses.
Executive functions are the mental processes that we all use to regulate our own attention and behavior and to manage our everyday lives through organization, time and space management, evaluating, prioritizing, strategizing, and reasoning.
There are three main processes involved in Executive Function:
• Working Memory – the ability to hold information on a mental sketchpad while thinking about it and working with it
• Inhibitory Control – the ability to determine when to act and when not to
• Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to see and weigh alternatives
These processes work together to look at the current situation, consider courses of action, integrate past experience, and avoid impulsive reactions.
They allow us to choose what to focus on and hold that as a priority in order to maintain that focus.
The Verbalization Key
The mind reasons through verbalization. Teaching childrento use their inner language to question and guide themselves brings executive function to a conscious level. Putting memories, past experience, choices, and strategies into words, helps students make sense of the information or situation in order to look at possibilities and come up with solutions.
Language gives us a tool for evaluating actions before they happen and helps curb impulsiveness. While there are times, when action happens instinctively, such as when a parent keeps a small child from running in front of a car, much of the time, actions that happen without giving language time to mediate, turn out to be poor choices.
Helping Children/Teens Develop Self-Talk
Metacognition is literally thinking about thinking. Parents and teachers can help stimulate metacognition in students by asking questions that cause them to reflect on how they are learning or approaching a task.
By modeling self-talk and intentionally discussing and teaching students to ask themselves questions, students can become more active thinkers, better comprehenders, and more independent learners.
Many parents express frustration over their student’s lack of organization, listening, and following directions. Here are some examples of self-questioning to increase organization
• Are my materials altogether and ready for tomorrow?
• What materials do I need to bring home from school in order to complete my homework? Do I have them?
• What order will work best for me to complete these assignments?
• How does this paper need to look when it’s finished?
• How long will this project / report take? What steps are involved?
• How many pages do I need to read each day in order to finish this book for my test?
• What is my first step in getting started?
• Where am I most focused for doing my homework?
• Where do I put my completed homework?
• When is the test?
• What kind of questions does the teacher usually ask?
• What are my best strategies for studying?
Examples of Self-Questioning to Increase Listening and Following Directions
• Am I listening carefully or is my attention drifting?
• What can I do to tune-in better?
• How do I know when the teacher or my parent is giving directions?
• Did I read and understand the directions?
• Are there any key words in the directions?
• Did I answer every question?
• How many parts are there to this question/assignment/job? Did I complete them all?
Intentionally teaching students how to self-question takes time and monitoring, but brings self-control and self-management to a more conscious level and hopefully brings more ownership on the part of the student. Metacognition is how we naturally guide our choices and behaviors, and training in this area can be applied to almost anything.
Thinking about thinking is a powerful support to learning, attention, and behavior.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Founder: Stowell Learning Centers
Author: At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
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