Eating disorders are on the rise.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating disorder prevalence increased from 3.4% to 7.8% globally between 2000 and 2018. And according to Johns Hopkins, 95% of people with eating disorders in the U.S. are between ages 12 and 25.
An eating disorder is a focus on food and bodyweight that causes a person to go to extremes when it comes to eating — everything from restriction to binging. They’re more common among teenage girls but can affect teenage boys, too. The earlier eating disorders are diagnosed and treated, the more likely the probability of complete recovery. However, many adolescents go undiagnosed and do not receive treatment until their eating disorder is at an advanced stage.
Teens with eating disorder often try to hide their behaviors from friends and family, so it’s important to look out for these signs that indicate symptoms of an eating disorder:
- Changes in what, when, and how much they eat
- Being restrictive or regimented about their eating
- Unusual weight fluctuations
- Expressing unhappiness with their body or their weight
- Exercising much more than usual
- Spending a lot of time in the bathroom
Prevention is key, and it begins with open communication. Talking to your children about the following will help them understand what it is to have a healthy relationship with food and body image.
- Encourage healthy-eating habits – Discuss how diet can affect your health, appearance, and energy level. Encourage your teen to eat when they are hungry. Eat together as a family.
- Discuss media message – Television programs, movies and social media can send the message that only a certain body type is acceptable. Encourage your teen to question what they have seen or heard.
- Promote a healthy body image – Talk to your teen about their self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Don’t make or allow hurtful nicknames, comments or jokes based on a person’s physical characteristics, weight or body shape.
- Foster self-esteem – Respect your teen’s accomplishments and support their goals. Listen when your teen speaks. Look for positive qualities in your teen, such as curiosity, generosity, and a sense of humor. Remind your teen that your love and acceptance are unconditional — not based on their weight or appearance.
- Share the dangers of dieting and emotional eating – Explain that dieting can compromise your teen’s nutrition, growth, and health, as well as lead to an eating disorder. Remind your teen that eating or controlling their diet isn’t a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage your teen to talk to loved ones, friends or a counselor about problems they might be facing.
If you suspect your teen is experiencing disordered eating, talk with them and reach out to their pediatrician immediately. Visit National Eating Disorders (NEDA) for more information.