Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Teenagers
Overeating related to tension, poor nutritional habits, and
food fads are relatively common eating problems for
youngsters. In addition, two psychiatric eating disorders,
anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are on the increase among
teenage girls and young women. These two disorders also
occur in boys, but much less often. Many health care
professionals are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat
these psychiatric disorders, which are characterized by a
preoccupation with food.
Parents frequently ask how to identify symptoms of anorexia
nervosa and bulimia. The fact is that many teenagers are
successful in hiding these serious and sometimes fatal
disorders from their families for many months or years.
Parents should be on the lookout for various symptoms and
warning signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia:
- A teenager with anorexia nervosa is typically a
perfectionist and a high achiever in school. At the same
time, she suffers from low self-esteem, irrationally
believing she is fat regardless of how thin she becomes.
Desperately needing a feeling of mastery over her life,
the teenager with anorexia nervosa experiences a sense of
control only when she says "no" to the normal food
demands of her body. In a relentless pursuit to be thin,
the girl starves herself. This often reaches the point of
serious damage to the body, and in a small number of cases
may lead to death.
- The symptoms of bulimia are different from those of
anorexia nervosa. The teen binges on huge quantities
of high-caloric food and then purges her body of dreaded
calories by self-induced vomiting. Bulimics also often
use laxatives. These binges may alternate with strict
diets, resulting in dramatic weight fluctuations.
Teenagers may try to hide the signs of throwing up by
running water while spending long periods of time in the
bathroom. The purging of bulimia presents a serious
threat to the teen's physical health. Purging may result
in dehydration, hormonal imbalance, the depletion of
important minerals, and damage to vital organs.
Proper treatment can help teenagers control these disorders
and relieve symptoms. Parents who notice symptoms of
anorexia or bulimia in their teenagers should discuss their
concerns with their teen's physician. When indicated, a
referral can be made to a mental health professional who
treats these disorders.