The pandemic has taken a toll on each of us. For teens, it has almost flipped their world upside down. From missing important sporting events to losing time with friends at parties and sleepovers, teens have struggled immensely. There has been a noticeable increase in mental health concerns in teens, including eating disorders.
An eating disorder can develop at any age and includes both men and women. They tend to be seen often in female teens, but male teens often go undiagnosed. There are several types of eating disorders, with many factors contributing to them becoming a concern.
If you’ve noticed some of the signs of an eating disorder in your teen, you may be struggling with understanding how to best help them.
Eating disorder types
When it comes to eating disorders, it’s rarely a black and white issue. Your teen may struggle with one eating disorder that transitions into another, or your teen may struggle with multiple eating disorder types.
Understanding the most commonly seen eating disorder types can be an excellent place to start so that you can learn how to get your teen the right kind of support and help.
The following three are the most commonly seen eating disorder types:
- Anorexia. Extreme exercise may combine with a highly restrictive and low caloric diet that quickly sees your teen losing weight rapidly.
- Bulimia. Food is consumed in large amounts or binged, followed by trying one or more methods of purging it from the body. This is often done with vomiting or the use of laxatives.
- Binge eating disorder. As with bulimia, large amounts of food are consumed. However, the food is not purged. The individuals are compelled to eat and cannot stop themselves.
While weight changes are commonly seen in those with eating disorders, it’s important to note that no one is looking for someone struggling with an eating disorder.
Why is there an increase in eating disorders in teens?
In truth, an eating disorder can develop at any age and often without a reason that is apparent to parents. Since the start of the pandemic, however, there have been several factors that can be pinpointed as contributing to the rise in eating disorders during this difficult time.
Control and isolation
Control often factors significantly into the development of many eating disorders. The pandemic kicked off feelings of lacking control of our lives. Combine that with being isolated, and you have the perfect storm for a teen who is already at risk of struggling.
An eating disorder may be their chosen coping mechanism for a teen to try and take control back. What they do and don’t eat is something that a teen can control.
Eating disorders and other mental health issues tend to thrive in isolation. Lockdown, social distancing, and other changes to our lives can feel isolated and lonely. This can potentially allow your teen to get away with their eating disorder in secret for longer than they would have otherwise.
Increasing discussions about weight gain
The pandemic saw an increase in conversations surrounding the body, healthy bodies, working out at home, and other messages that could result in an easily influenced teen getting the idea that the idea is to be as skinny as possible. Even a teen at a healthy weight may feel pressured to drop 10lbs to be thinner. This pressure can result in obsessions with calories consumed and the numbers seen on the scale.
Many of us did gain weight once we were sent into lockdown situations. Working from home, getting less outdoor time, juggling the needs of family and work. It all led to many of us seeing the numbers on the scale creep up.
This, in turn, led to increasing news and social media coverage discussing weight gain during the pandemic. For a sensitive teen who may have gained a bit of extra weight, it can kick off feelings of insecurity about how their body looks.
Depression and anxiety
The pandemic has left adults concerned, so it’s not surprising that teens would pick up on this concern. Many teens are at risk of struggling with their mental health, even at the best of times. All of the changes brought on by the pandemic can result in a teen having increased anxiety levels and starting to show some of the signs of depression.
Recognizing some of the signs of a mental health crisis in your teen can help:
- Increasing need for sleep, or insomnia.
- Changes in behavior, including an increase in irritability
- No longer taking part in things they once enjoyed
- Decreased self-esteem
- Negative talk about body image and no future hope
If you recognize some of these in your teen, it would be helpful to get them evaluated by a mental health professional.
Food insecurity at home
An unfortunate reality for many families during the pandemic related to food insecurity. A lack of good, healthy food options can lead to teens consuming food that is higher in carbohydrates, sugars, and fats. While no one can fault any family for doing what they can to put food on the table and ensure full bellies, these foods can contribute to weight gain.
If a teen feels self-conscious about their body and any weight they’ve gained during the pandemic, they may take extreme and unhealthy steps to lose the weight. What this looks like may vary based upon the personality of your teen and the dynamics of your household.
Do you suspect your teen has an eating disorder?
Teens with eating disorders learn how to disguise their unhealthy habits from those around them. It could be that months passed, and you don’t recognize that there is anything to be concerned about until you start to see drastic weight changes in your teen.
Weight changes are just some of the concerns that your teen faces. Some other life-threatening risks include kidney failure, digestive tract damage, heart disease, diabetes, and nutritional deficiencies.
Do you know what to look for if you suspect disordered eating in your teen?
- Changes in eating habits. Whether eating little or nothing at all or eating large quantities in a short period.
- Asking to eat alone or frequent claims of having already eaten.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom to throw up or after laxative abuse.
- Excessive exercising, with an obsession over working out.
- Making statements about being overweight even if they are slimmer.
- Noticeable anxiety at mealtimes.
- Any weight changes, whether weight loss or weight gain.
If you have recognized many of these signs in your teen, it’s time to reach out for help from behavioral health specialists who have extensive experience addressing and treating eating disorders.
Your teen’s pediatrician or primary care doctor will be able to provide you with a list of local resources that can prove helpful. Treating the medical effects of an eating disorder is just as important as treating the mental health concerns your teen faces. Whether online or socially distanced in person, individual therapy can be beneficial.