Sue Scheff: Does your teen have an eating disorder?

This weekend’s loss of a beautiful young actress is a tragedy.  There are some reports that Brittany Murphy was looking exceptionally thin within the past few weeks prior her death.  Although there are no confirmed reports of any eating disorder, it is a topic parents need to be educated on.

Eating disorders among teens, especially girls, are a serious concern.  With today’s peer pressure to keep up with the trends, fit into those skinny jeans and be a part of the cool clique can lead your teen down a troubled road.

What is an eating disorder? The MayoClinic describes it as follows:

Eating disorders are a broad group of serious conditions in which you’re so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, and there are also many subtypes.

Most people with eating disorders are females, but males also have eating disorders. The exception is binge-eating disorder, which appears to affect almost as many males as females.

Treatments for eating disorders usually involve psychotherapy, nutrition education, family counseling, medications and hospitalization.

Anorexia nervosa
When you have anorexia nervosa (an-o-REK-se-uh nur-VOH-suh), you’re obsessed with food and being thin, sometimes to the point of deadly self-starvation. You may exercise excessively or simply not eat enough calories.

Bulimia nervosa
When you have bulimia, you have episodes of bingeing and purging. During these episodes, you typically eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time and then try to rid yourself of the extra calories by vomiting or excessive exercise. In between these binge-purge episodes, you may eat very little or skip meals altogether. You may be a normal weight or even a bit overweight.
 

Binge-eating disorder
When you have binge-eating disorder, you regularly eat excessive amounts of food (binge), sometimes for hours on end. You may eat when you’re not hungry and continue eating even long after you’re uncomfortably full. After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals, triggering a new round of bingeing. You may be a normal weight, overweight or obese.

Eating disorders in youngsters
Eating disorders can affect people of any age. In children, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s an eating disorder and what’s simply a whim, a new fad, or experimentation with a vegetarian diet or other eating styles. In addition, many girls and sometimes boys go on diets to lose weight, but stop dieting after a short time. If you’re a parent or guardian, be careful not to mistake occasional dieting with an eating disorder. On the other hand, be alert for eating patterns and beliefs that may signal unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that may trigger eating disorders.

Causes of eating disorders:

It’s not known with certainty what causes eating disorders. As with other mental illnesses, the possible causes are complex and may result from an interaction of biological, psychological, family, genetic, environmental and social factors. Possible causes of eating disorders include:
 

  • Biology. Some people may be genetically vulnerable to developing eating disorders. Some studies show that people with biological siblings or parents with an eating disorder may develop one too, suggesting a possible genetic link. In addition, there’s some evidence that serotonin, a naturally occurring brain chemical, may influence eating behaviors because of its connection to the regulation of food intake.
  • Psychological and emotional health. People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional characteristics that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, anger management difficulties, family conflicts and troubled relationships, for instance.
  • Sociocultural issues. The modern Western cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin. The media and entertainment industries often focus on appearance and body shape. Peer pressure may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young girls.

Learn the symptoms and risk factors of eating disorders.

Be an educated parent, you will have healthier teens!

Learn about teen body image.

Also on Examiner.com

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