Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that revolve around body weight, body image, and an obsession with food. These disorders are often overlooked, but if left untreated, they can be deadly.
As a parent, you may be wondering what causes eating disorders so you can protect your teen from developing one. Your teen may already be showing symptoms you’re concerned about. Here’s what you need to know about the causes and risk factors.
Risk Factors for Eating Disorders in Teens
There is no one cause of eating disorders. These illnesses develop as a result of a number of factors – physical, environmental, and psychological.
Physical factors for eating disorders may include:
- Genetics – Having a relative with an eating disorder increases an individual’s risk of developing one.
- Dieting – Unhealthy dieting techniques can lead to disordered eating.
- Hormonal changes – Puberty causes hormonal changes that can trigger an eating disorder. Girls are especially at risk, since they experience hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle.
Today, young people are battered by advertising and media with messages about what their bodies “should” look like. It’s a complicated world of mixed messages, even from their peers. Negative body image and low self-esteem are major risk factors for teens as they are developing their personal identities.
Additionally, eating disorders are closely associated with depression and other mental illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 50% of people with an eating disorder also have a mood disorder. It’s important to recognize that eating disorders are mental illnesses and have deeper causes than the desire to create a better body image.
Dysfunctional family environments and peer pressure are also factors for teens as they are developing their personal identities. Even a teen living in a healthy environment may receive negative messages from culture and media consumption.
Stressors or major life changes also factor into eating disorder risk. Stressors may come from a variety of places, from childhood trauma like physical or sexual abuse or school bullies, to a divorce or death in the family.
Can Parents Cause Eating Disorders?
Parents may blame themselves or be blamed by relatives when their child develops an eating disorder. The truth is, parents cannot directly cause an eating disorder. These are complex illnesses with many different influencing factors.
However, your attitude towards eating and body image does have an impact on your child. By modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes, you can reduce the risk of your son or daughter developing an eating disorder. On the other hand, an unhealthy model can act as a trigger for a teen already prone to an eating disorder.
Types of Eating Disorders in Teens
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are the three major eating disorders. Here are the characteristic symptoms of each.
People with anorexia refuse to eat regularly and are not getting the nutrition they need to maintain a healthy body weight. Beyond the primary physical factors, people with anorexia experience an unhealthy fear of weight gain.
Those suffering from bulimia consume mass quantities of food and then purge the food through a variety of tactics such as vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise.
Binge eating occurs when individuals consume excessive amounts of food in a short period of time, without purging. This is also followed by periods of intense shame and guilt and isolation from friends and family because of this shame.
There are also several other types of eating disorders such as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). These other types are not as well-known but are just as dangerous. It’s important to get a professional evaluation for your child if they are displaying any abnormal eating or exercise habits.
If you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your teen, consider taking our quiz to see if it could be an eating disorder.
Treatment of Eating Disorders in Teenagers
Treatment for eating disorders usually involves therapy, nutritional counseling, and sometimes medications. Family counseling may also be incorporated, since recovery requires adequate environmental support at home.
If you believe your teen is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to find them help in a safe and judgment-free environment. Seeds of Hope offers personalized adolescent programs, from one-on-one therapy sessions to group counseling for teens.
Find a location near you or contact us to schedule an appointment.