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Eating disorders are more common among teens than many would like to admit. Unfortunately, a significant number of these disorders go unnoticed until it is too late. As a parent, it is important to start familiarizing yourself with the signs of an eating disorder.
If you do, you will be better able to recognize if your teen develops and tries to hide an eating disorder. Then, you can intervene if necessary.
Look for Noticeable Physical Changes
Some of the most obvious signs of an eating disorder are physical, but they’re not all what you might think. You would likely expect rapid weight loss to be one of the signs, and it is. But periods of weight gain can also be a symptom. You should look for repeated cycles of weight gain and loss in your teen.
However, in addition to weight changes, there are also more subtle signs that might also point towards an eating disorder. Your teen might complain of dizziness, weakness, or constantly being cold, or they might experience sleeping issues.
You might even notice a change in the way your teen’s facial features look. In addition to being paler than normal or looking ill, they have swelling around their salivary glands under the ear or jaw. Alternatively, they could have discolored teeth or more cavities than normal.
Look at What They Eat
It’s also a good idea to start looking at what your teen is eating. Your teen eating less isn’t always a sign that something is wrong. However, your teen making sweeping changes that grow over time might be a sign of something serious.
For example, your teens might eliminate some categories of food from their diets wholesale, such as grains, oils, or sugars. They might also start to become overly concerned about calorie counts, carbohydrate numbers, or fat content.
Pay Attention to How They Eat
It’s not just what your child eats that might matter; how they act around food might also be a warning sign. Teens who consistently skip family meals, who find excuses to not be around food, or who seem to be uncomfortable about the topic of food might be hiding an eating disorder.
Likewise, teens who insist on only eating alone or who spend significant amounts of time in the bathroom right after eating could be showing warning signs.
You might also notice certain eating rituals in your teen. For example, they might eat the food on their plate in a specific order, only eat small bites, or drink water between each bite.
When preparing food, they might burn it, overseason it, or let it become cold or unappetizing. Often, these rituals are intended to help them restrict how much food they eat, though different rituals indicate different eating disorders.
Check with Eating Disorder Treatment Facilities
If your teen is showing these signs, consider contacting local eating disorder treatment facilities to talk about your next steps. The professionals there can give your more guidance that will fit your teen’s situation and let you know how to proceed. Professional input can be invaluable in this type of situation.
They might recommend therapy, inpatient care, or even partial or temporary hospitalization depending on the severity of your teen’s eating disorder and other factors.
Because eating disorders come in so many varieties and may be caused by a wide range of different emotions or situations, there are a lot of treatment options. Various therapies can help target the source of your teen’s eating disorder to help prevent future relapsing.
Remember, the signs of an eating disorder can be incredibly subtle. Pay attention to your child’s appearance as well as their attitude towards food. If you feel overwhelmed, try to remember that there is professional help out there you can turn to that can help your child to recover.