Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders and Mental Illness in Teen Girls

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Teen Eating Disorders and Treatment

Teen girls are more likely than ever to suffer from an eating disorder. A new study states that 10 out of 100 young women now suffer from some sort of an eating disorder. Over-eating related to tension and poor dietary habits associated with fast fatty foods have propelled eating disorders to over 10% of the young adults affected. Two diagnosable psychiatric conditions, Bulimia, and Anorexia Nervosa are on the increase in teenage girls and young women. Often, these disorders are hereditary. Eating disorders affect teenage boys at a much lesser rate.

Why do teenage girls develop eating disorders?

Eating disorders can be a deep-rooted problem that is usually a result of several factors. These factors can contribute to the causes of eating disorders in adolescents, including genetics, unhealthy dieting techniques, or hormonal changes – especially in girls. Adolescents who have experienced abuse are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders. Abuse may include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. These factors can contribute to the desire for a drastic change resulting in bulimia, and anorexia in adolescent girls.

To start getting help for a teen who has developed an eating disorder, please call our free helpline to speak with a counselor now. This is a free service.

eating disorders in teens

Contributing Factors that may lead to Eating Disorders:

  • Social and other media sources— The American media and the culture that they create have an obsession with thin people. This includes television, magazines, movies, Facebook, and other social media; all of which portray to our children, their views on how popular you can be if you are thin and beautiful. No matter how subtle, these influences can give a young girl image issues and lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Trauma—- Trauma can be a result of a single event happening or repeated events that can take place over years. The Death of a loved one, emotional problems, physical abuse, mental abuse, divorce, and sexual violation, can contribute to eating disorders.
  • Bullying— This has become more prevalent with the onset of social media and has become increasingly brutal. Instagram and Facebook have perpetuated bullying into a problem that inflicts emotional pain on our sons and daughters, resulting in body dissatisfaction. A young girl can be very susceptible to body shaming leading them to dissatisfaction, depression, and lowering their self-esteem. Eating disorders thrive under these types of psychiatric conditions.
  • Peer pressure— When girls attempt to be popular they might feel the pressure to lose a significant amount of weight quickly. Being what others perceive as”fat” can have an effect that stems from eating disorders, especially in teenage girls.
  • Athletics—- Some competitive sports can lead to the onset of an eating disorder. In judged sports or events that are judged on a specific body type or look; gymnastics, ballet, and pageants are a few examples. When the onset of puberty arrives there can be significant body changes in young girls that can lead to depression, emotional problems, as well as physical challenges. Girls can develop unhealthy habits with food to control the one thing that they feel no one can interfere with.
  • Being perfect or perceived perfectionism—- Teenage girls can be led to believe that to be perfect they must be thin and the thinner the better. Our media has portrayed perfection as intelligent, thin, and athletic. Many teenage kids, especially girls,s can take this to the extreme, leading them to develop an eating disorder.

Treatment for Eating Disorders 

Treating all the issues that lead up to the disorder can be an integral part of treatment. Many young adults that enter into treatment for an eating disorder, bulimia, or anorexia, have an underlying condition that needs to be addressed at the time of treatment.

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Self-harm and  cutting

Treatment must involve the ability to treat co-occurring mental disorders. A high percentage of teens who get treated for eating disorders are admitted for more than one condition. Being able to treat all disorders and addictions while enrolled in treatment for bulimia, or anorexia will give the best chances for long-lasting recovery for your son or daughter.

There are many benefits for someone entering residential treatment for eating disorders. Being able to treat a person in a setting that is monitored 24 hours a day, can have a significant influence on your son or daughter’s recovery process. Young girls may admit to depression or anxiety disorders when in treatment for these conditions. It can become clear to the clinical staff, that there is also an eating disorder that needs to be addressed as well.

One of the most important components of residential treatment can be the time your daughter or son resides at one of our treatment facilities. Having your son or daughter in treatment for longer than 30 days gives the staff and doctors the time needed to address all underlying issues that lead up to the eating disorder. Helping your child understand their disorder and learn to take the steps required for recovery, free from the distractions of everyday life. Separating and unplugging them from social media, friends, cellphones, and activities while in treatment, can help their recovery progress and speed up the recovery process. Having a longer stay in treatment allows the young girls to be at a healthy weight, and put into practice the coping skills that they are learning in therapy. The most common treatments for eating disorders include DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and some incorporated principles out of the 12-step programs.

Virtual Schooling

Schooling is provided while your child is enrolled in one of our treatment centers through online courses and also offering college prep courses and SAT preparedness studies. Class is held in the mornings with treatment starting in the mid-afternoon. All students have access to tutors and get the help they need to stay current in their studies while in treatment.

Family Therapy and Counseling

Having a child with an eating disorder can be hard, not only on the individual but the family as well. While in treatment there will be times that are available family counseling for the family to address their concerns and repair conflicts, broken relationships, and communication. This step in treatment can either be done over the phone or computer conferencing or in person at the facility.

Physical and Mental Consequences of Teen Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a form of self-abuse that results in medical and physical problems that can lead to both short and long-term consequences. With early treatment and intervention, most health consequences can be avoided. The longer the eating disorder continues, the more damage is inflicted on the body, sometimes even leading to death.

Bulimia Nervosa

Young girls with bulimia binge eat large portions of food, then shortly after excuse themselves, and while out of sight and earshot, they purge their food by induced vomiting. This practice can be extreme; with self-induced vomiting and the consumption of large quantities of food, putting the teen’s body in distress. Laxative and binge-exercising can be associated with this disorder as well.

BED or Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating can seem similar to bulimia in the food that is consumed, the difference is that there is no purge, which results in massive weight gain and obesity due to the overwhelming amount of food intake.

Signs, Symptoms, and Consequences

  • Stomach and intestinal distress– Inflammation of the stomach lining and gastritis are common among those who binge eat and purge, due to the stress on the system. Abusing laxatives alters the body’s chemical balance robbing it of essential minerals and fluids. This leads to the digestive tract and lining becoming damaged and eventually burns out the colon. In severe cases, the colon must be removed.
  • Esophageal Injury— Repeated purging releases bile and acid to rise from the stomach, which can irritate and lead to inflammation of the esophagus, narrowing of the throat passageway, and in some cases tearing the lining of the esophagus which can lead to a fatal rupture.
  • Tooth Decay and Rot—- Vomiting increases the mouth’s PH level making it more acidic resulting in erosion of tooth enamel and dentin.
  • Kidney and Heart Problems—- When a person binges and purges, this has a profound effect on the vital mineral intake and fluids that we need to run our bodies. Food and fluid intake is the fuel that runs our bodies and denying the body of these vital key elements and minerals can lead to the shutting down of essential systems. Low potassium levels and what can become chronic dehydration, will eventually lead to kidney distress and eventually failure of the organ completely. Frequent vomiting, associated with Bulimia, brings with it higher than normal alkali levels in the bloodstream and the body tissue itself. High potassium levels and severe alkalosis can lead to irregular heart rhythms and cause sudden death in some teenage girls.

Long-Term Effects on the Body:

  • High blood pressure
  • Congested heart failure
  • Type II diabetes
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Anorexia Nervosa

A person who is exhibiting signs of anorexia will restrict the amount of food that they intake, to the point of self-starvation. This leads to the body not being able to maintain the weight it once had. Most girls with anorexia have a body weight that is at least 15% below the medically accepted normal body weight for their height and body type. Starving oneself will affect the overall health of your child during this time of significant development.

  • The long and short-term effects of anorexia can include:
  • The feeling of being cold — Once a person starves themselves to the point of severely reduced body fat, the ability to stay warm can be drastically reduced. This can lead to the bluing of the extremities fingers, toes, and lips. Body temperature is usually below the normal 98.6 degrees.
  • Slowing the thought process— Our bodies and brains are like engines and food is the fuel. When you deprive the brain of the much-needed fuel to operate  (in the form of calories) it can make the thought process slow down causing large pauses in communication and thinking. this is commonly referred to as psycho-motor delay.
  • Dry skin and hair loss — When you start to become dehydrated, the skin will start to dry out making it flaky and in extreme cases, appear gray in color. Once the scalp starts to become deprived of the nutrients that are needed to promote healthy hair growth, balding and patchy hair loss can be quite common among teenage girls with anorexia.
  • Anemia— Low iron in the diet due to poor nutrition causes the blood to be low on iron and can be reversed through the re-introduction of a proper diet.
  • Amenorrhea and infertility— When a teenage girl develops habits in their diet that starve the body of its key nutrients for a long period of time, her menstrual cycle will become sporadic and in extreme cases shut down completely. If anorexia is left to continue in an adolescent girl during the onset of puberty and the critical growth years, it can lead to lifelong infertility. Menstruation often continues once nutrients are allowed to work as they were intended. This is not a guarantee that fertility will be restored.
  • Osteoporosis— A lack of calcium and other key minerals can negatively impact bone health, resulting in degenerative bone conditions. Bone loss is not something to be taken lightly. This loss of bone structure will not replace itself. If anorexia is left unchecked into a young girl’s adult years without remission, young women will be at risk for severe bone fractures which could also lead to curvature of the spine.
  • Brain Shrinkage— Anorexics that engage in prolonged starvation can see an actual loss in gray matter in the brain. This can result in drops in IQ levels and cognitive brain function. New studies have shown that when a girl reaches their healthy body size they can also increase their gray matter volume. How fast the brain replenishes its gray matter is unknown at this point but studies have shown a significant increase, once the body reaches 100% of its intended body weight within 6 weeks.
  • Heart Arrhythmia and Heart Attacks— When a young girl starts to starve herself, the body will start digesting its own muscle tissue in the last effort to maintain life. The heart is a giant muscle that makes it vulnerable to attacks, leading to anthemic abnormalities and distress. In cases of extreme starvation events, the heart can cease to function, leading to complete stoppage and death.

Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. There are serious irreversible consequences that can be avoided if treated. The sooner that a person starts to undergo treatment for bulimia or anorexia, the better their chances of avoiding a life-threatening event, or severe medical problems in the future.
 Our counselors will be able to assess the situation and lead you to the best treatment center for eating disorders in your area. Getting a teenage girl into treatment for an eating disorder can save their life and at the very least help them avoid complications to their health in the future.


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