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18 Signs of Anorexia in Teens

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Well before taking the steps toward treating a mental health disorders like anorexia nervosa, such as a teenage rehabilitation center, medication, or therapy, there are warning signs that can reveal the presence of a mental health disorder. While each individual will of course vary in the signs they show and the ways that their lives are affected by a condition like anorexia, there are common warning signs that can help parents identify the issue. And the earlier you identify anorexia, the easier it becomes to effectively treat. 

But most of us aren’t mental health professionals, and thus, may not feel prepared to effectively identify a mental health condition. But this doesn’t mean you’re totally helpless. By doing some research and learning about the common signs, you can prove to be a better resource for your teen and get them the professional help they need. Here, we’re taking a closer look at this surprisingly common mental health condition. 

What is anorexia?

Let’s start at the beginning. What do we mean we when refer to this mental health issue? Anorexia, known in the scientific community as anorexia nervosa, is a mental health condition that is characterized by a fear of gaining weight, overwhelming desire to be thin, and a resistance to eating in general. Those experiencing anorexia may have a completely unrealistic body image and believe that they are “fat” or gaining weight, even when they are underweight or at a normal body weight for their size and age.

While children of any age (and adults) may experience anorexia, this condition appears to be far more prevalent among teenage girls. This may result from a variety of factors, including peer pressure and the ever-increasing role of mass media in our daily lives. And while your teen may simply claim that they’re dieting or looking after their appearance, there can be serious consequences of letting anorexia go unchecked. 

18 Signs of anorexia in teens

While it’s quite rare that your teen would ever come out and admit that they are suffering from a mental health condition like anorexia nervosa, they most likely will exhibit some of the common signs and symptoms. By understanding which signs to be on the lookout for, then you can better help them address this condition. If recognized, anorexia nervosa is a treatable mental health disorder and your teen can go on to forge a healthy relationship with food and return back to the life they love.

The signs of anorexia can be grouped into two categories: physical signs and behavioral ones. Let’s take a look at some of these common warning signs: 

Physical signs of anorexia

These may include:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Dry skin or other skin issues
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Brittle nails
  • Thinning hair
  • Feeling cold constantly. 

Behavioural signs of anorexia

These may include:

  • Frequently skipping meals
  • Anxiety and stress during meals
  • Excuses to avoid meals
  • Cutting food into smaller and smaller pieces (so it appears they’ve been eating)
  • Spending an excessive amount of time at the gym or working out
  • Intensive focus on nutritional guidelines for foods
  • Being moody
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Wearing baggy clothing to cover up their body
  • Depression
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • An overall unusual/unhealthy relationship with food. 

How to treat anorexia and other eating disorders in teens

If your teen is experiencing one or many of these symptoms, then it’s possible that they’re experiencing anorexia nervosa or some other type of eating disorder. While it can be a scary thing to admit that your teen has an eating disorder, it’s critical to start a dialogue to improve their chances of recovery. If you’ve spoken with your teen about their condition, and then if you both agree that outside support would be beneficial, there are several treatment options for addressing teen eating disorders, including:

  • Therapy. Maybe the most common method of treatment for anorexia and other eating disorders is psychological treatment, primarily in the form of cognitive therapy. This specific type of psychotherapy focuses on the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with eating and their condition. This type of talk therapy helps teens recognize their unhealthy behaviors, which then opens the door for them to develop new, healthier behaviors to cope and live a fulfilling life.
  • Medication. In tandem with therapy and other treatments, medication can be effective for treating eating disorders. Generally, antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drugs for anorexia. Since an eating disorder is rooted in a psychological issue, treating the associated anxiety or stress can be very beneficial.
  • Residential teen treatment centres. For some individuals, a more comprehensive type of treatment may be required. Residential treatment centers, many of which are designed specifically for teens, are in-house treatment centers that offer comprehensive care for those suffering from a variety of mental and behavioral issues. With 24/7 care and attention and access to top medical professionals, these treatment centers can help your teen cope with their condition. From there, they can develop a healthy method to allow them to lead a healthy and happy life. 

Takeaway– 18 Signs of anorexia in teens

It can be frightening to face the fact that your teen may be experiencing an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa. As a parent without sufficient medical knowledge and resources, you may simply not know where to begin in such a scenario. But no matter the degree of your medical knowledge, understand that you are the most important resource for your teen.

Being able to identify an eating disorder in your teen is a crucial first step toward finding treatment. If your teen is experiencing one of the common signs of teen anorexia, such as an unhealthy relationship with food, constant dieting, compulsive exercising, or a drastic change to their physical appearance, then it may be time to start an honest conversation. Your teens wellness and future could depend on it.

Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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