Rahul Tripathi, a fourteen-year-old boy, has his parents worried. For the past few weeks, he has been inconsistent in his eating habits – sometimes, he eats a lot and the rest of the time, he hardly eats. Often, his parents have caught him checking his appearance in front of the mirror. Initially, they dismissed it as a part and parcel of the growing up years. However, when Rahul began to go overboard – excess exercising, skipping meals altogether, his parents took him to a doctor. A thorough check-up revealed Rahul was suffering from an eating disorder.
Rahul is just one of the many teens today who suffer from an eating disorder. Known more as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, eating disorder is also popularly known as binge-eating.
Often, parents make the grave mistake of thinking that eating disorder is a simple condition that requires one to make changes to the diet. However, it is not. In fact, eating disorder is a serious condition, which can lead to potentially harmful medical problems.
So, what can you, as a parent do? To begin, learn how to spot the warning signs of an eating disorder. Remember, teenagers are especially at risk and early intervention is key to preventing your teen’s eating disorder from progressing into something more serious.
10 signs of an eating disorder
- Weight fluctuation or weight loss: Weight gain is a normal part of growing up. However, if your teen continues to grow but is struggling to lose weight especially during adolescence when most growth takes place, it may be the early signs of eating disorder. Do try out simple things like checking of your teen’s weight at regular intervals.
- Excess exercising: Is your teen obsessed about working out regularly? Does he exercise when he is tired, injured, or even sick? However, it is not easy to find out if your teen is suffering from an eating disorder or whether he is simply keeping fit. One simple way to find out is to check her anxiety level. If he shows signs of panic if he is unable to exercise, if he builds his day around exercise only, it might be a case of eating disorder. Remember, in most cases, teens try to compensate for their food intake by indulging in excessive exercise.
- Changes in appearance: Look out for these signs in your teen’s overall appearance – puffy cheeks due to swollen glands, hair loss, dry or rough skin, and excessive facial or body hair.
- Over-eating: One sign of an eating disorder is when your teen begins to overeat. During binge-eating, your teen may consume large amounts of food with no control over how much he eats. Even when not hungry, your teen may show an urge to eat or eating to the point of discomfort.
- Vomiting after eating food: One characteristic of teens who suffer from an eating disorder is that they eat a large quantity of food. To compensate for this, they try to take out the food through unhealthy ways like vomiting, with the help of a laxative or diuretic abuse. Notice if your teen escapes immediately after meals. It might mean they may go to
- Skipping meals: Is your teen avoiding meals at home? Does he cook up excuses like he ate at a friend’s house? Crash dieting and fasting can be the beginning of an eating disorder.
- Isolating oneself: The signs of an eating disorder may not be related to food only. A patient may withdraw from his usual activities like playing and talking with friends. He may isolate himself and get moody after eating and in fact, may make continual excuses about not wanting to eat with peers.
- Physiological changes: A person suffering from an eating disorder may exhibit certain physiological changes such as the development of unusual sleep patterns, sensitivity to cold, feeling of faint and tiredness, and irregular menstrual cycles. Teens might also complain of not being able to feel warm or have a freezing sensation.
- Storing food in the bedroom: If you suspect your teen of suffering from an eating disorder, one way to find out may be to check the bedroom. He may be storing large amounts of food, which may manifest itself in the form of empty wrappers and boxes.
- Avoiding eating in public: One common sign of eating disorders in teens is they avoid eating out in public as much as possible. Some places include restaurants, cafes, and family gatherings.
Tips from a nutritionist to tackle an eating disorder
- Try to have small meals at frequent intervals to avoid sugar cravings. Try to substitute sugar with dried fruits like dates, figs, and raisins.
- Meals that contain an equal combination of protein with carbohydrates keep one full for longer periods of time.
- Ensure you are hydrated for dehydration can give a wrong signal to the body about hunger. Resist the urge to constantly consume food.
- Carry some simple and healthy snacks like fruits, dried fruits, nuts, etc
If your teen shows any of the above signs of eating disorder, talk to a doctor. Make sure your teen undergoes a complete physical assessment before undergoing any type of treatment. The help of a mental health professional may also be required.
With inputs from Priya Kathpal, nutritionist and fitness expert.
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