Anorexia nervosa is characterized by recent extreme weight loss, an obsession with an overly thin frame, disordered eating in the form of restricting and sometimes purging, and sometimes over-exercising. A common misconception is that a person must be very underweight to struggle with anorexia, but persons who are overweight and have recently begun starving themselves are equally in dagner. Teens who struggle with anorexia are more typically underweight and will often restrict their food to the point of illness, unconvinced that they are thin enough to stop what they are doing. Attempts to maintain this unhealthy state (via starvation, laxative or diuretic abuse, fluid restriction, vomiting, and over-exercising) makes early teen anorexia treatment essential.

Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed in teens who purposefully go out of their way to reduce and maintain incredibly low body weight, and does not refer to medical conditions with symptoms such as wasting and atrophy, infection, malnutrition/famine, or several other syndromes and diseases. Atypical anorexia nervosa is diagnosed in teens who do not fit the underweight category, but who go to similar extreme and harmful measures to drastically reduce their weight.

Anorexia has a long history, with documented examples of medical cases strongly mirroring modern examples of anorexia and bulimia in ancient China, Egypt, and Rome. Historical documents imply several religious figures known for their pious fasting may have been anorexic, and 19th-century records by English and French physicians have identified patterns of self-induced starvation because of emotional anguish. Today, anorexia seems to be the most glamorized form of eating disorder, showing up in movies and television shows and depicted by beautiful young women. This can make treatment very difficult as teens create a glamorized identity around their own relationship with the eating disorder, often romanticizing their behaviors and how they feel when they are thin.

Cases of anorexia nervosa only apply where a teen’s physical state is a direct result of their eating and exercising habits, and not due to another medical cause. At Visions Treatment Centers, we help teens who struggle with anorexia gain a healthier understanding of themselves and their needs, assist them in improving their self-esteem, create more supportive coping skills for stress, depression and anxiety, and take small steps towards a more empathic and realistic self-image.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Anorexia Nervosa

The factors surrounding anorexia nervosa are complex. The effects the media and societal beauty standards have on the self-esteem of countless impressionable teens has been well documented and continues to become a vast issue that calls for increasing awareness. However, teens who have anorexia struggle with a deeply flawed self-image, and a compulsion towards an incredibly unhealthy physical state and lifestyle that they believe will solve or numb their current struggles.

The factors surrounding anorexia are biopsychosocial – encompassing a wide spectrum of contributing issues. Whatever internal logic a teen might use to make excuses for their behavior, anorexia remains a disorder with identifiable signs and symptoms. The presence of any of the following could be a warning sign that something is wrong:

  • Fatigue and fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Yellowish skin
  • Incredibly low body fat
  • Atrophied muscles
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Abnormal blood levels
  • Obsessed with body image, physical flaws, “being fat”
  • Social withdrawal and avoiding eating in public
  • Skipping meals and denying hunger

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Bridging the Gap Between Teen Anorexia Treatment and Recovery

There are no medications to specifically target the thoughts and behaviors playing a prime role in anorexia, however there are many potential psychopharmaceutical medications that could assist in combination with talk therapy. Teens with anorexia may need medical attention to help them back onto a normal weight and avoid the long-term consequences of malnourishment and starvation.

Without being at a healthy body weight, medications will be ineffective as the body will be unable to metabolize them properly. Getting your teen to a healthy weight will be an important part of the stabilizing process that allows our talented doctors and psychiatrists to assist recreating a healthy system of neural pathways that will allow for long term change to occur.

At Visions Treatment Centers, teen anorexia treatment begins with a thorough assessment to understand the internal and external factors contributing to their disordered eating habits. A teen anorexia treatment plan is formulated based on each patients’ unique circumstances, with therapies including:

Medical Care and Lifestyle Changes

Teens struggling with severe anorexia may be malnourished and in need of medical care. Teen anorexia treatment sometimes begins during or after hospitalization, and at Visions Treatment Centers, we coordinate with physicians to ensure a teen is healthy and ready for residential treatment. Long-term lifestyle changes will also be important, including working with a registered dietitian to learn more about healthy eating habits.

Talk Therapy

Family therapy and individual therapy can help identify thoughts and behaviors contributing to symptoms of anorexia, isolating them, and replacing them with positive and healthier habits. Family therapy plays an important role in combating anorexia, helping a teen refeed, and promoting healthier eating habits until the teen is ready to make those healthy dietary decisions themselves. Your teen will also work with a specialized eating disorder therapist who will help your loved one understand the secondary gains of their disorder in order to better get their emotional needs met. This specialist will also be available to you to answer questions or explore how family dynamics around food and exercise may be contributing to the eating disorder. At Visions Treatment Centers, we work in a judgment free zone where you and your family can safely explore the best ways to support each other through this process.

Alternative Treatments

At Visions Treatment Centers, we leverage several different forms of experiential therapy to help teens cope with some of the emotional symptoms of conditions like anxiety, including animal therapy, art therapy, and group experiences.

Anorexia nervosa can have long-term consequences and it can take months or years to fully recover. A gradual shift towards a healthier lifestyle and sense of self can, and has, helped many teens distance themselves from disordered behavior. Remember that this is a lengthy commitment. Supporting permanent change means preparing for bumps in the road, setbacks, and struggle.

To help families better support their teens and understand anorexia and its risks, signs and symptoms, we work with a teen’s loved ones to provide resources and information, help them find local support groups and specialists, and address questions and concerns via family therapy. At Visions Treatment Centers, we find it important to emphasize continuing care, and establishing a better understanding of how to support your teen’s recovery over the coming months and years.