Nearly 3% of teenagers between the ages of 13-18 -; boys as well as girls -; struggle with food, weight and body image issues severe enough to constitute an eating disorder. Such disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating) seriously affect both physical and mental health, and in some instances can be life-threatening.
As with all medical and behavioral conditions, early detection offers a treatment advantage. But detecting unhealthy food-related behavior can be tricky, with some studies suggesting that as many as 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys skip meals, fast, smoke cigarettes, vomit, and use laxatives to control their weight -; not always signs of an eating disorder. Parents sometimes say, “it looked like normal adolescent behavior,” which often it is: it’s not unusual for teens to skip breakfast or announce, “I’m trying to be more healthy.” And so unhealthy food-related behaviors can fly under parents’ radar. Here are the signs to look for:
- Repeatedly avoiding activities when food is involved. Begging off friends’ pizza parties or family meals around the dinner table (“I’ll eat in my room,” or “I’m not hungry because I had a big lunch,”) may disguise a food-avoidance habit.
Coupled with some of the aforementioned indicators, reduced energy, isolation, irritability and social withdrawal can accompany an eating disorder. Seek professional help when you find yourself worried about your child’s food-related behaviors.