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It is not uncommon to find that as children grow into teens and young adults, the lines of communication with their parents can often become crossed. Whether teens start changing their taste in music or pushing parents out of their social lives, this can be a difficult period for everyone involved. It is important to note, there is a big difference between normal adolescent changes and the warning signs of an eating disorder. Luckily, there are eating disorder treatment centers available that specialize in helping parents identify common warning signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, making early intervention possible. At the Clementine center for eating disorders, teens can find the highest level of care in a comfortable, safe and home-like setting.

Many individuals first develop eating disorders in early adolescence. This means the concept of teenagers and eating disorders is something both parents and school staff should be aware of. For parents, there are few things more important in life than the happiness and well-being of their children. It is particularly stressful when parents begin to notice their teens are skipping meals or heading to the restroom immediately after a meal. Studies show more than half of teen girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use disordered behaviors in an attempt to control their weight. Some of the most common eating disorder behaviors parents may notice include fasting, skipping meals, “yo-yo” dieting and vomiting. While eating disorders in adolescence can be common, with early intervention and a good support system in place, teens can make a full recovery and continue on to lead happy and healthy lives. Before families seek eating disorder counseling for their teens, it is best to learn more about these potentially life-threatening conditions and how they are treated.

Before the Talk: What Are the Most Common Eating Disorders?

Before parents approach their teenage children about eating disorder treatment, it is a good idea to have all the facts. Nothing is worse than initiating a difficult conversation only to be left grasping for answers and failing in defeat. Eating disorder treatment is a delicate subject for anyone, but having the talk can be especially difficult for young kids who have other lifestyle pressures on their mind. If parents want to give their children the best chance at achieving eating disorder recovery, they should prepare themselves for a heavy conversation. Keep reading to learn more about the most common eating disorders affecting teens today.

Anorexia Nervosa

Most parents have heard of anorexia nervosa but may not be aware they have seen the early warning signs of the disorder in their homes. This common eating disorder typically develops in early adolescence, but can affect people of all ages and genders. Often characterized by dramatic weight loss, most teens with anorexia nervosa have trouble maintaining an appropriate body weight for their age and height. They may have a distorted body image with an inability to see they have lost too much weight. It is very common for teens with anorexia nervosa to restrict the number of calories they consume each day and limit the types of foods they eat as well.

Some common signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa parents should look for include:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • A preoccupation with food, calories and dieting
  • Dressing in layers, even in warm weather
  • Cooking meals for others without eating
  • Embarrassed to eat in public
  • Problems sleeping, dizziness and difficulty concentrating
  • Development of food rituals, including excessive chewing and only eating foods in a certain order

Parents should take these warning signs very seriously. Without eating disorder treatment, teens are at risk of developing many different medical complications, including electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrest.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another common eating disorder that can have severe medical consequences if teens are not introduced to eating disorder counseling. Characterized by a cycle of binge eating and purging, parents may have difficulty identifying bulimia nervosa at first. Many people do not exhibit any outward signs of the illness. Those with bulimia nervosa may maintain what most medical professionals would consider a “normal” body weight.

There are still many warning signs parents can look for with bulimia nervosa, including:

  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Disappearing after meals
  • Excessive use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Maintaining a rigid exercise routine despite workor school commitments, illness or injury
  • Fear or embarrassment associated with eating around others or in public places
  • Skipping meals or eating meals alone
  • Purging after a binge with self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills, fasting and/or excessive exercise
  • Discolored or stained teeth and/or tooth enamel erosion

The recurrent cycle of binge-eating and purging associated with bulimia nervosa can wreak havoc on the digestive system. This can lead to chemical imbalances in the body that may affect the heart. The social conversations and behaviors associated with teenagers and eating disorders can also occur at school, making it important for parents to reach out to faculty members for additional help identifying symptoms.

Binge Eating Disorder

While binge eating disorder (BED) was previously categorized as a subtype of other common eating disorders, it is now formally recognized as a separate condition. Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of eating large quantities of food in a relatively short period of time. Unlike bulimia nervosa, teens with binge eating disorder do not purge after a binge. However, they do often feel a great deal of shame surrounding their behaviors and typically try to hide it from parents and friends. Some of the most common signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Fear of eating around others
  • Stealing or hoarding food
  • Extreme fluctuations in weight
  • Trying out new fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (dairy, carbs, sugar, etc.) and sudden vegetarianism or veganism
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment
  • Does not stick to a typical eating schedule(i.e. no planned mealtimes or skipping meals)

Obesity is a common health condition that can be associated with binge eating disorder. Those with the disorder may develop certain heart conditions, diabetes and other illnesses.

Speaking to Teens About Eating Disorder Treatment

Parents who notice any of the signs associated with common eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder should address concerns with their children as soon as possible. While the above signs do not alone confirm a child has an eating disorder, the behaviors should not be ignored. Choosing to ignore the signs in the hopes they will go away over time or that children will simply “grow out of it” could be a life-threatening mistake.

Studies show eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses, often resulting in long-term health impacts. Parents should never wait for their kids to ask for help, but should instead bring up the subject at the first sign of an issue.

Teenagers and Eating Disorders: How to Have “The Conversation”

At the Clementine center for eating disorders, our staff members know how difficult serious parent-teen conversations can be. For parents to prepare themselves for a tough and emotional conversation, it is important to keep a few key points in mind.

Learn First, Then Talk

While parents may be able to identify some of the common warning signs of eating disorders, it is always good to remember even the experts do not fully understand these complex mental health conditions. Parents should not expect to become experts overnight! Instead, they should prepare for pushback and questioning from their children and be able to have a respectful conversation about the issues.

Don’t Accuse

Parents should never make their children feel cornered with accusations. It is best to approach the subject in an inquisitive fashion by asking if teens have been experiencing problems surrounding food. While children may not freely admit to having a problem, asking questions will help open a dialogue and let them know their parents are interested in helping them.

Discuss, Don’t Argue

If it is revealed a child does have an eating disorder, parents should remember this will be the first conversation of many. There is no need for parents to prove how much they know about teenage eating disorder treatment. They should also avoid any attempts to “win” the conversation by showing their teens they cannot hide things from their loved ones. Parents should instead aim to create an open exchange of ideas, where everyone involved can share their thoughts, feelings and observations.

Be Compassionate

Parents would never dream of criticizing their kids for getting pneumonia, so why blame them for developing an eating disorder? Parents should treat their children with compassion when speaking about eating disorder recovery and remember their condition is a mental illness. As a good rule of thumb, shame, anger and disappointment have no place in this conversation. Additionally, parents should avoid focusing on appearance and instead talk about the different behaviors associated with eating disorders.

Listen First, Then Act

When asked about eating disorders, many teens may agree with everything their parents say instead of processing what is really happening. Parents should take time out in the conversation to listen to their children and really let them be heard. Asking for a child’s input can allow them to take ownership over their disordered behaviors and can act as an important first step in recovery.

Ultimately, the reason for beginning this conversation is to determine what type of teenage eating disorder treatment is necessary for a full recovery. Once the initial conversation has occurred, families should do their research on age-appropriate eating disorder treatment centers. While talking to teens about eating disorder recovery may not be easy, it is necessary for their future health and happiness.

Treatment Options: Residential vs. Day Treatment

Eating disorders in adolescence can be devastating for families, but with access to high-quality eating disorder treatment centers such as Clementine, parents can rest easy knowing their kids are receiving the best care possible. Patients with eating disorders typically have two main treatment options, residential treatment or outpatient (day)  treatment.

With residential treatment, patients have access to 24-hour care at a live-in facility. This level of care is best for teens who have both psychiatric and medical needs. While participating in a residential treatment program, teens can rely on a network of medical doctors, psychiatric care staff, nutritionists and counselors for guidance.

Alternatively, outpatient treatment is offered to those individuals stepping down from a residential level of care or who need a less intensive form of treatment. These patients are typically medically and psychiatrically stable and do not require 24-hour monitoring, but still need access to regular eating disorder counseling.

Learn More About Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment at Clementine

While there are many different centers for eating disorder treatment across the United States, parents of teens and young adults should seek out a treatment center focused on adolescent care whenever possible. At Clementine, teen patients have access to the highest level of medical and psychiatric care outside of a hospital setting. With a number of different treatment programs available, families can rest easy knowing their teens are receiving compassionate care in fa safe and home-like setting.

Interested in learning more about eating disorder treatment for teens? Call 855.900.2221 or contact us today for more information.