Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder: Take These Steps to Help
A teen may try to keep a wide array of secrets from her/his parents. There are secrets they may want to keep from everyone. An eating disorder is often one such secret. Parents must learn the warning signs and develop ways to communicate about them. You didn’t choose the path on which your teen has an eating disorder but it is an increasingly common journey for parents.
Fortunately, there is a general blueprint for parents willing to do the work to help.
What is an Eating Disorder?
There is a wide range of treatable psychological disorders that involve disordered eating and/or body image issues. They are common, often becoming present by the teenage years, usually impact more females than males. The most prevalent are:
- Anorexia Nervosa: Involves restrictive eating, drastic weight loss, extreme exercise, and forced vomiting — all provoked by a skewed body image. Symptoms include: thinness, brittle bones and teeth, low blood pressure, and dry, yellowish skin.
- Bulimia Nervosa: Presents with binge eating followed by purging, extreme exercise, fasting, and forced vomiting. Symptoms include: severe dehydration, inflamed throat, acid reflux, swollen salivary glands, and worn tooth enamel.
- Binge Eating Disorder: Also presents with binge eating but without the purging. Symptoms include: Eating alone, eating very quickly, and severely overeating — followed by feelings of shame, distress, and guilt.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
This is a complicated question to answer. The factors to consider are:
For each individual, elements of these five factors combine in varied ratios. The only common thread is the result: an eating disorder. What is absolutely important to remember is that your teen is not choosing to be sick. All eating disorders are serious illnesses and must be treated as such.
4 Steps to Help if Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder
1. Do Your Homework
If your child were diagnosed with, say, cancer, you’d certainly spend hours on the nearest search engine. Eating disorders deserve the same focus. Learn all you can so can better understand what your teen is going through. In addition, you’ll be validating their pain and showing them how far you’ll go to help.
2. Forget About “Blame”
As detailed above, exact causes are difficult to discern. Neither blaming your teen nor blaming yourself is productive once the condition is present. Rather than blame, focus on healing and recovery.
3. Act From a Place of Compassion
This means, in part:
- Don’t talk until you’ve done the homework described above.
- Choose healthy discussion over any kind of debate.
- Don’t accuse, shame, or demand. Ask.
- Avoid commentary on appearance.
- Hone and then re-hone your listening skills.
It’s hard for any parent to see their child suffer but maintain perspective. Your teen is the one hurting most and at the most risk. If the process is causing you, as a parent, to struggle, you can seek counseling for yourself as well. In fact, your own counselor may strengthen you as a caregiver and teach you more about empathizing with your teen’s experiences.
4. Resist Slipping Into Denial
Don’t believe that if your teen has an eating disorder, they will “grow out of” this “phase.” Again, use the cancer comparison: don’t rationalize their diagnosis. Accept it, learn more about it, and then commit yourself to be as productive as possible in the process of your child’s healing journey.
Treatment Options When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder
Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t vanish on their own. Even when healing takes place, it requires diligence to maintain healthy eating habits. It’s crucial that your teen knows you’re there to help and learn.
However, a serious condition like this usually calls for counseling. Eddins Counseling Group, in Houston, TX has several counselors that specialize in treating eating disorders and teen counseling. Please reach out for a consultation soon. Your teen will benefit from having a weekly safe space to openly discuss feelings and experiences. An experienced therapist can be a catalyst toward healing. They may also help you and your teen stay connected as you work together to facilitate recovery. Reach us at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online.
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