Sally, Jenny, and Carla go to a friend’s birthday dinner at a restaurant. After the food arrives, Sally picks at her food with her fork but she never actually eats anything. Jenny ravenously finishes her second serving of food, seemingly just a couple minutes after the food arrives and then disappears suddenly from the table. Carla seems to have isolated herself and is completely enveloped by her food as she finishes her fourth plate and then proceeds to half-heartedly order her fifth. What do all three girls have in common? They are all fighting an internal battle against their eating disorders.
Eating disorders affect more people than they should, and it has especially increased amongst teenagers. 40% of teenage girls have an eating disorder. Causes of eating disorders may include genetics, trauma, family relationships, psychological problems, elite athletics, societal pressure or stress. Eating disorders are often a way to cope with a larger problem a person might be avoiding dealing with. Eating disorders are often overlooked but without the proper treatment, they can lead to serious illness and in severe cases, even death.
“When young people show signs of an eating disorder, there is this tendency to think that they might outgrow it or that it’s just a phase,” Dr. Cynthia Bulik, an eating disorder expert at UNC, says. “But the most likely path is in the direction of developing a full-blown eating disorder.”
It is often hard to tell when people have an eating disorder, especially with teens. Teenagers are often in denial that they have an actual health problem because people with eating disorders tend to not categorize themselves as having an eating disorder at first, and most are not diagnosed nor receive treatment until their eating disorders are advanced.
“Recovery is possible, 2/3 of people recover from eating disorders. Treatment involves a multi-disciplinary team consisting of a therapist, dietitian, and medical doctor,” said Pam Chin-Lai, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD.
There are 3 common types of eating disorders that affect teenagers. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Anorexia is most commonly caused by wanting a sense of control over life, that can be over many different situations affecting the specific person. People with anorexia experience a satisfying feeling and a sense of empowerment when they reject the food demands of their body. They associate their self-worth very closely with the way their body looks. Teens with anorexia have a fear of gaining weight along with a distortion of their body image.
“Typically, people with anorexia know a lot about nutrition but are unable to apply it to themselves. They do a little eating disorder spin on facts. For example, they may understand that all foods are fine in moderation but the person with an eating disorder believes that they can only eat clean, nutritious foods due to their strong distortions. The treatment team helps by challenging these distortions,” Chin-Lai said.
Bulimia is another eating disorder that commonly affects teenagers. It entails bingeing uncontrollably on food followed by a feeling of guilt and an unhealthy way of compensating for the food they ate, for example purging, over-exercising, or dieting very strictly. Eventually, hunger overpowers the person and triggers the cycle all over again.
As said in EatingDisorderHope.com, “Since people with bulimia may have bingeing and purging episodes in secret, they are often able to conceal their disorder from others for extended periods of time.
Those suffering from bulimia nervosa often utilize these behaviors in an attempt to prevent weight gain, to establish a sense of control, and/or as a means of coping with difficult circumstances or situations.”
Binge eating disorder is different than bulimia and anorexia but just as damaging to the body and mind. Binge eating disorder is categorized by episodes of uncontrollably eating an abnormally large amount of food in a small period of time and not followed by vomiting or over-exercising. Causes of this disorder can be long-term strict dieting, anxiety, depression, or genetics.
EatingDisorderHope.com said, “The negative feelings that usually accompany binge eating often lead him or her to continue to use food to cope; thus creating a vicious cycle.”
Unfortunately, a lot of messages that society puts out there can cause many people to become insecure about their bodies and therefore trigger eating disorder like thoughts. Society often values the appearance of people more rather than who they are.
Chin-Lai said, “We live in a society that unintentionally promotes eating disorders.
Obviously, we are bombarded with images that emphasizes lean, hyper-beautiful bodies, however even in our day-to-day activities, we overhear comments like ‘wow, you look so thin’ and ‘you’ve lost so much weight!’ These comments can cause anyone within listening distance to think ‘hm maybe I need to lose a little weight.’”