Many people have heard of eating disorders, but disordered eating may sound less familiar. Disordered eating is a phrase describing a range of problematic eating behaviors and attitudes. The characteristics of disordered eating are similar to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa but may not be as severe. Disordered eating is actually quite common among children and adolescents. However, the key for parents and caregivers is to address it before it worsens and develops into an eating disorder.
Disordered eating among children and adolescents typically occur when they develop an unhealthy relationship with food or a distorted body image. It often coincides with other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse and takes a toll on children/teen’s self-esteem. The behaviors and thinking of distorted eating become disruptive and interfere in everyday life. It may have consequences on their physical and mental health.
Disordered eating may include:
- Frequent dieting or obsessive calorie counting
- Rigid food restriction, skipping meals, fasting
- Feeling anxiety, guilt, or shame about specific foods or food in general
- Obsessive exercising or exercise to “punish” for overeating
- Binging and/or purging
- Using laxatives or medication to change their shape or size
- Negative self-talk regarding body shape, size, or weight
- Feeling out of control around food
- Using food for emotional comfort
What Are Some Types of Eating Disorders?
An eating disorder is psychological and affects the a person’s relationship with food or their body. These disorders require treatment, such as behavioral therapy, and a treatment plan from a mental health professional. Some of the more common disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa: This is probably the eating disorder that most people are aware of. It causes an insatiable desire for thinness caused by poor body image. The person suffering from the disorder will restrict calories, cut out entire food groups and be physically active to lose as much weight as possible.
- Binge eating disorder: Those suffering from this disorder will go through phases of consuming large amounts of food in a short time, which can lead to emotional trauma, such as guilt. However, there’s no purging with this disorder to alleviate the binge.
- Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia is another of the well-known eating disorders in teens, but this disorder’s symptoms can be hard to spot, as the person tends to remain a certain weight. They will go through cycles of binge eating and purging, which can include vomiting, fasting or excessive exercise. There’s also an intense fear of gaining weight with this disorder.
How Can Eating Disorders Affect Your Teen’s or Young Adult’s Overall Health?
A healthy relationship with food and exercise is critical for the overall health and well-being of your teen or young adult. Some of the effects of eating disorders include:
- Lack of proper nutrition
- Insufficient or excessive calorie intake, which can lead to an unhealthy weight
- Increased mental load due to the pressure of looking a certain way
- Health problems that can further exacerbate the effects of the eating disorder, including malnutrition, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, bone density loss and gastrointestinal issues.
What Are Some Signs Your Child or Teen May Be Experiencing Disordered Eating?
Common signs of a possible eating disorder include:
- Preoccupation with weight, body image, food and calorie intake
- Sudden weight fluctuations
- Cutting out entire food groups
- Skipping entire meals
- Unwillingness to eat in public
If any of the above describes what your child or teen is experiencing, counseling may be beneficial. In counseling, your child or teen is afforded a confidential space to speak freely and process their feelings. Children and young people are often looking for someone to understand and just listen, which is what our professional counselors can provide. Through a safe and non-judgmental approach, underlying causes for the disordered eating are discovered and can be addressed. We can also help your child or adolescent develop coping skills and self-soothing strategies to better manage their heavy feelings and practice healthier habits.
If you believe your child or teen is struggling with symptoms of disordered eating and needs support, our affiliated professional counselors are here to help. They practice child-friendly evidence-based techniques such as play, art, and sandtray in their therapy. They may also utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Solution-Focused approaches. Give our office a call today and let’s schedule a time to talk.