Back to school tends to bring on a wave of anxiousness and stress as students prepare for new classes, new friends, new schedules, and new information. This time of transition can be especially difficult for students who are not yet capable of handling their stress in appropriate ways. This overwhelming stress to perform, measure up, be graded, and fit in can lead some young people to lean into things they feel they can control, their eating habits. These habits may include restricting food intake, purging, or engaging in behaviors symptomatic of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Eating Disorders in Adolescence
The teen years are a time of significant disorder. Social pressure, academic demands, relationship worries, along with major changes in the body and brain development can all contribute to emotional ups and downs and internal turmoil. In short, the teens years can create a perfect storm for eating disorders.
How to Help Your Teen Cope
1. Know the warning signs – Dramatic weight loss is one warning sign, but there are many others. Teens may dress in layers to hide their weight loss, abuse laxatives or diet pills, or make excuses to avoid eating. Other signs to watch out for include changes in mood, a drop in grades, social withdrawal, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
2. Be a role model – It may not always seem like it, but your teen is listening and watching. If you’re constantly dieting or making negative comments about your appearance, this will influence your teen’s attitudes.
3. Spend time together – Eat meals together, play a board game, take a walk. It’s important for families to spend time with one another outside of performance-related activities.
4. Strive for moderation – It seems important today, but that extra AP class or tournament win isn’t going to make much difference in the long term. Take a look at your teen’s schedule and make sure they’re not overscheduled and overstressed.
5. Listen carefully – Teens may not tell you everything, but they may give you clues about what they’re feeling.
6. Don’t hesitate to get help – The earlier eating disorders are identified and treated, the better the chances for a full and lasting recovery. If you’re worried, get a consultation with a trained professional, who can help you figure out your next steps.
What You Can Do to Help
Through actions and words, caring adults can make sure that teens feel they are receiving the love and support they need to successfully navigate the high school years. If you feel like outside help is needed to assist in stress management or eating disorder treatment, do not hesitate to call. At Avalon Hills, we help girls, starting at the age of 11, navigate their eating disorder and receive the help they need!