There are various warning signs of anorexia that indicate that your teen might be at risk for developing this life-threatening eating disorder. Learn how to spot the warning signs of anorexia early to give your child the best chance at recovery.
Warning Signs for Your Teen that They Might be at Risk for Developing Anorexia Nervosa
Teens are particularly at risk for developing eating disorders. Being aware of the various warning signs of anorexia can help you prepare for the possibility of helping your teen recover from this life-threatening disorder.
Puberty and the teen years are a risky time in general for young adults. Their bodies are changing, their brains are still developing, they’re hyper-concerned with how their peers perceive them, and their mental health is more vulnerable and fragile. Peer pressure is also a concern, as your child might engage in risky behavior due to the social concerns they may have about fitting in. Considering all of these factors, it’s no wonder why many teens experience their first mental illness during these early teen years.
Additionally, many teens are hyper-aware of their bodies and acutely aware of their budding sexuality. Their physicality becomes extremely important, especially if they experience appearance-based bullying. Kids can be cruel, and when you acknowledge this within the context of diet culture, many children begin to believe that they must change their bodies to conform to the societal ideal in order to be accepted. For some, this combination of physical expectations and mental health pressure can develop into disordered eating or even a full-blown eating disorder.
As a parent, this can be a particularly demanding and stressful time. Not only are you dealing with the mood swings that come along with the teen years, but you are also balancing giving your teen more autonomy and independence while they are still developing their critical thinking skills. Though you want to give your teen the opportunity to become their own person—the exploration of identity is critical at this point in a child’s development—you may also be concerned that giving they too much leeway could open an opportunity for them to make a poor decision that might put them in danger.
In general, being an overbearing parent is not well-tolerated by teens, and research shows us that overbearing parenting styles can contribute to your teen developing high levels of anxiety and depression. That being said, keeping an eye out for some warning signs is always a good idea. There are certain behaviors that indicate that there might be something to be concerned about in regards to developing anorexia.
Some warning signs that your teen might be at risk for developing anorexia include:
Rapid weight loss, especially for teens who are not historically in smaller bodies
If your teen is suddenly losing a significant amount of weight, especially if they have historically been in a larger body, there might be some potential concerns. Historically, when kids in larger bodies lose any amount of weight, we as a society praise them. A child’s personal doctor may even encourage weight loss.
Despite the missteps the medical community has made regarding eating disorder treatment, we now know that anorexia can occur in bodies of all sizes. We also know that children who start out in larger bodies are often less likely to get the treatment that they need because of preconceived notions regarding weight and health. If your child is rapidly losing weight, pay attention. It does not automatically mean that they are engaging in eating-disordered behaviors, but it could be the first piece of the puzzle.
More intense food requirements, including adopting a restrictive diet of some kind
Because we live in diet culture, there are often new fad diets or popular dietary patterns that take center stage. Depending on what the most trendy diet is at the moment, your teen might be drawn towards a vegan diet, a gluten-free diet, a keto diet, and more. While some of these dietary patterns are not inherently disordered, they often act as a smokescreen for restrictive eating.
For other children, there might be existing pickiness with their eating. If this picky eating becomes more intense, or your teen becomes even more highly agitated when their eating preferences are unable to be accommodated, this might be a sign that their behavior with food is becoming more disordered and rigid.
Increased concern and dissatisfaction with what their bodies look like
Teens are often preoccupied with their bodies for various reasons, including the intense body changes and hormonal shifts that they experience during this time period. Peer pressure and diet culture help to make this preoccupation even more profound. If your teen becomes so distressed by their body that they are experiencing extreme anxiety, including avoiding social situations because of their shame regarding their body, this might be a sign that they are struggling with more-than-typical body preoccupation.
What to do as a Parent if Your Child is Displaying these Anorexia Warning Signs
None of these warning signs, by themselves, indicate that your child is developing anorexia. But together, and in conjunction with genetic predisposition and other temperamental characteristics such as perfectionism, these warning signs can be a cause for concern.
If you are worried that your teen might be struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia, know that the sooner they get the treatment, the better their treatment outcome. Your teen does not have to suffer in silence or struggle with disordered eating their whole lives. They can access treatment, engage with recovery, and become well-adjusted young adults with bright futures.
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About the Author
Ashley M. Seruya is a social work student, virtual assistant, and content creator specializing in eating disorder recovery, Health at Every Size, and weight stigma. Learn more about her work at ashleymseruya.com or on her Instagram at @fatpositivetherapy.