Teenagers and Eating Disorders

At a recent Parent Conference, a single mom of a 9th grade girl pulled me aside to talk during the break. She wanted to know how she might identify the symptoms of teenage eating disorders. Not being a psychiatrist, Nutritional expert or medical doctor, I gave her a few quick insights and told her I would have to get back to her. (yes, there was the tired part of me that wanted to tell her to google or bing it for herself) But seeing the desperation and pain in her eyes, the Student Pastor side won out. Later that week and after a little research, I sent her the following notes and encouraged her to seek professional help from a trained counselor who specializes in treating teenagers addictive or destructive behavior.

Destructive eating habits can be related stress, tension, poor nutritional habits and cultural food fads. Unfortunately, the issue of eating disorders are relatively common problems for today’s teenagers.
According to several studies, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are on the increase among teenage girls and young women. They study also shows that the problem tends to run in families. In the US, it is estimated that 10% of young women suffer from an eating disorder. While eating disorders also occur in boys, there are much fewer cases and not as difficult to treat.

The below notes are a good reminder for all of us. Sooner or later we will have to pray with a parent and youth who is in deep trouble from food . . . or the lack of it.
The two main disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia are characterized by a preoccupation with food and a distortion of body image. Sadly, one of the dangers les in the fact that most teenagers hide these serious and sometimes fatal disorders from their families and friends.
Symptoms and warning signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia include the following:
• A teenager with anorexia nervosa is typically a perfectionist and a high achiever in school. At the same time, she suffers from low self-esteem, irrationally believing she is fat regardless of how thin she becomes. Desperately needing a feeling of mastery over her life, the teenager with anorexia nervosa experiences a sense of control only when she says “no” to the normal food demands of her body. In a relentless pursuit to be thin, the girl starves herself. This often reaches the point of serious damage to the body, and in a small number of cases may lead to death.
• The symptoms of bulimia are usually different from those of anorexia nervosa. The patient binges on huge quantities of high-caloric food and/or purges her body of dreaded calories by self-induced vomiting and often by using laxatives. These binges may alternate with severe diets, resulting in dramatic weight fluctuations. Teenagers may try to hide the signs of throwing up by running water while spending long periods of time in the bathroom. The purging of bulimia presents a serious threat to the patient’s physical health, including dehydration, hormonal imbalance, the depletion of important minerals, and damage to vital organs.
With comprehensive treatment, most teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms or helped to control eating disorders. The child and adolescent psychiatrist is trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat these psychiatric disorders. Treatment for eating disorders usually requires a team approach; including individual therapy, family therapy, working with a primary care physician, working with a nutritionist, and medication. Many adolescents also suffer from other problems; including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It is important to recognize and get appropriate treatment for these problems as well.
Research shows that early identification and treatment leads to more favorable outcomes. Parents who notice symptoms of anorexia or bulimia in their teenagers should ask their family physician or pediatrician for a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
AND lest we forget where true power lies . . . read Ezra 10:4 “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”