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Treating eating disorders in adolescents presents unique challenges. To achieve true recovery, treatment teams must accurately diagnose and treat the eating disorder and comorbid or underlying conditions affecting the client. When it comes to anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa diagnosis and treatment, differentiating between the two is an important first step. These two eating disorders show similar signs that can be difficult for parents of adolescents to assess on their own. At their core, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa symptoms share many similarities and motivations, but looking for key signs allows the treatment team to separately diagnose these disorders. Parents can explore the similarities and differences of these two eating disorders to prepare for collaboration with their child’s bulimia nervosa treatment center treatment team.

Risk Factors for Eating Disorders in Adolescents

Certain personality traits and cultural ideals can put children and adolescents at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than their peers. Adolescents with perfectionist tendencies and high levels of anxiety, for example, may have a high risk of developing eating disorders. Other risk factors include obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors, depression and a family history of eating disorders.

Pressure to conform to cultural norms can also contribute to children and adolescents facing a high risk of developing disordered eating habits. Another risk factor can be participation in sports, especially in appearance-based activities, such as cheer-leading or dance, as these activities tend to put an unhealthy emphasis on weight and looks. Kids who had never expressed concern about their eating habits or weight could begin to do so at puberty, due to the body changes that occur during that time. A risk factor assessment can help parents prepare to monitor their children for warning signs of anorexia and bulimia.

Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Adolescents

The warning signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in adolescents can notify parents their child may be developing an eating disorder. With this information, parents can seek early intervention, which offers the best results for children with eating disorders. The warning signs are often difficult to detect, especially in this age group, as adolescents can be secretive and erratic with their food preferences and eating habits.

One of the biggest warning signs is a child’s attempt to control their weight or food intake using restrictive eating habits. Adolescents with anorexia or bulimia may avoid certain food groups, skip meals or even refuse to eat for an extended period of time. Children and adolescents may also make long lists of good and bad foods, alter their food preferences and develop rituals around eating as the disorders develop. The first signs of bulimia in adolescents may show through hiding food and binging in private, with or without purging.

Parents can also look at how their kids perceive their own weight, size and shape. An increased focus on these areas can indicate adolescents are struggling with body image issues. Even if kids do not vocalize their worries about weight or body shape, they may show physical signs by obsessively checking their image in the mirror or weight on the scale. Pinching at excess skin and fat can also indicate an eating disorder is starting to develop.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa in adolescents may begin with a negative focus on both body size and weight. This preoccupation with inaccurate body image perceptions can overrun all other aspects of the child’s life. Children or adolescents may begin to control their food intake, develop rituals around eating and dramatically increase exercise to help control their body image.

Since these perceptions are often distorted, this pursuit of the ideal body image does not typically end without treatment. As a result, most clients with anorexia lose a significant amount of weight and often end up below a healthy weight for their height. The restriction of food also tends to result in nutritional deficiencies that can impact both physical and mental health.

Without adequate intake of food and water, dehydration sets in fast for adolescents with anorexia. Dry skin, dizziness, fatigue and constipation may also result. The constipation may come with severe abdominal pain that prevents the completion of daily activities. As anorexia nervosa goes undiagnosed and untreated, adolescents may develop a fine layer of body hair called lanugo.

Anorexia may cause adolescents to feel withdrawn from their family, friends and classmates. They may seem moody, depressed and irritable on a regular basis. Early treatment can help reverse these symptoms and prevent serious damage to the internal organs from dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.

Signs and Symptoms Associated with Bulimia in Adolescents

At its core, bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurring binge eating episodes along with compensatory behaviors, including purging and laxative use. The binge episodes revolve around eating a large amount of food in a specific period of time. Individuals of any age lack a sense of control over their behaviors during these episodes. To meet the diagnostic criteria, these episodes may occur at least once a week for at least three months’ time, though early intervention and treatment are key in helping adolescents make a full recovery. Therefore, it is important for parents to watch for these diagnostic signs and report them to a skilled treatment professional right away.

Physical, emotional and behavioral signs are the best way for parents to watch for bulimia nervosa symptoms. The physical signs may include discoloration of the teeth, facial swelling, hair thinning, gland inflammation, bloating and weight fluctuations. Unlike in clients with anorexia, adolescents with bulimia are usually at a normal weight and can be overweight. Emotional bulimia nervosa symptoms tend to arise in the form of mood swings, intense scrutiny of physical appearance, guilt from restrictive diets and an inability to focus.

Most behavioral changes revolve around the child or adolescents’ dietary intake and eating habits. Following fad diets or only eating certain food groups, for example, are both potential signs of bulimia nervosa. Adolescents with bulimia nervosa may take frequent bathroom trips right after meals and spend an excessive amount of time there. Difficulties sleeping and withdrawal from social activities are also common signs of bulimia nervosa eating disorder. With a look around the house, parents can often find signs of binge eating, such as a large amounts of missing food or the accumulation of empty food wrappers.

Similarities Between Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa Behaviors

A preoccupation with weight and body image are found in both anorexia and bulimia eating disorders. Adolescents with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa may have an extreme fear of gaining weight and a wildly inaccurate perception of self. They may also have chronically low self-esteem and obsessions with maintaining a thin figure.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia eating disorders have a profound impact on the mental and physical health of adolescents, especially if not caught early and treated with help from a professional team. These conditions also tend to trigger the development of compulsive behaviors that can impede normal daily activities. The compulsive behaviors often revolve around their dietary habits with restrictions or binging episodes.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can both arise alongside comorbid conditions, such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. It is also possible for adolescents to develop both anorexia and bulimia as a way to cope with inaccurate body image perceptions. When left untreated, bulimia and anorexia can both lead to the development of substance abuse disorders.

Although these conditions can run in families, there is no clear cause for either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The prognosis for children or adolescents with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa depends on their ability to seek treatment and follow the recovery plan. The first step in making a full recovery is seeking care from a treatment program that utilizes proven bulimia treatment practices.

Types of Care That Help Adolescents Recover from Eating Disorders

Bulimia and anorexia are similar in that they both respond favorably to the completion of effective treatment programs, especially those that use a structured level system. These treatment programs allow clients to challenge their eating disorders using activities that scale with the accomplishments made to date. With advancement to each level of treatment, clients earn privileges that reward their completion of goals and ability to build trust with their care team. These privileges may come in the form of outings that help prepare clients to resume their daily lives outside the bulimia treatment centers.

While at the bulimia nervosa treatment centers, clients gradually learn how to appropriately choose their foods for meals and snacks. The staff offers guidance and support while allowing increased responsibility around the food preparation process. This strategic approach allows for a smooth transition outside the bulimia treatment centers as clients surpass the final level of care. At this point, clients may move to a less intensive treatment program for continued help with their anorexia or bulimia eating disorder.

Role of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Centers in Recovery

While at bulimia nervosa treatment centers, adolescents receive the oversight and guidance they need to challenge their eating disorders and develop healthy habits and coping skills. The high level of care from the treatment center staff, along with the client’s complete commitment to the treatment process, helps ensure adolescents have the support they need to make a full recovery from eating disorders.

Effective bulimia nervosa treatment centers maintain a holistic approach,  promoting long-term recovery from adolescent anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Individual, group and family therapy sessions promote healing from eating disorders for children of any age. The group therapies revolve around proven approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, that facilitate recovery from eating disorders. Excellent bulimia nervosa treatment centers offer exposure therapy, in the form of food challenges, outings and other goal-based activities, that help adolescents replace harmful behaviors with more positive alternatives. Throughout the treatment process, the introduction of beneficial coping skills and important life skills supports individuals on the path to recovery, even after leaving treatment.

Bulimia treatment centers create comprehensive treatment plans that support the transition from the treatment program to home. These aftercare strategies may include personalized meal and exercise programs and other forms of support integral to continued recovery from eating disorders.

How to Acquire Support from Anorexia and Bulimia Treatment Centers

When the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa arise, parents can reach out to bulimia nervosa treatment centers for support. These treatment centers offer comprehensive programs designed to help adolescents make a full recovery from eating disorders. Each child’s treatment team can assess their anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa symptoms to make an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Parents can receive support from a bulimia treatment center by calling 855-900-2221 to speak to our team at Clementine. We can help adolescents replace their eating disorder with healthy thought patterns and coping skills for a lasting recovery.