Teens struggle with eating disorders more than any other age group, and while it’s a problem for both boys and girls, it’s twice as common among women. These disorders are about more than just food and are centered around a harmful self-image.

More than just a preference for staying skinny or a problem with stress eating, eating disorders are complex mental conditions requiring psychological intervention. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we tackle eating disorders through a combination of talk therapy, fostering a healthy relationship with food and exercise, helping teens learn to love their bodies, and boosting their self-confidence through several social activities.

The Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders typically stem from severe body image issues. But the factors contributing to an eating disorder are varied. Research shows it is partially hereditary, based on twin and adoption studies. There are marked neurological differences in teens with bulimia and anorexia related to low serotonin and poor mood regulation and impulse control. The signs and symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body image issues
For anorexia nervosa:
  • Calling themselves “fat” when they’re underweight
  • Eating exclusively low-calorie foods
  • Lack of menstruation (for women)
  • Early osteoporosis
  • Signs of malnutrition (anemia, jaundice, scurvy)
  • Constipation
For bulimia nervosa:
  • Chronically sore throat
  • Swollen neck and puffy cheeks (from inflamed salivary glands)
  • Abuse of diuretics and laxatives
  • Tooth decay due to repeated vomiting (stomach acid)
  • Evidence of secret binge eating (large amounts of food missing)
  • Evidence of purging
For binge eating disorder:
  • Eating very rapidly
  • Eating extreme amounts of food
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Hiding binges and using binge eating as a “release”
  • Feeling embarrassed or depressed about one’s eating habits

Identifying Different Eating Disorders

There are currently three different diagnoses for eating disorders. Each has their own unique symptoms, particularly in terms of weight control and eating habits. Each of these embodies a different dysfunctional relationship with food and body weight. They are:

Anorexia Nervosa

Characterized by an extreme obsession with being and remaining thin, anorexia describes an eating disorder wherein a teen avoids any fattening foods, insists they are fat (despite being dangerously thin and underweight), and exercises compulsively. Teens struggling with anorexia will eat as little as they can.

Bulimia Nervosa

Characterized by binge eating followed by purging, teens who struggle with bulimia nervosa are typically of a normal body weight, but will insist they are fat, or are scared to gain any weight. They will control their diet stringently, but have moments of binge eating, swiftly followed by a visit to the bathroom to purge. They might purge physically or rely on diuretics and laxatives.

Binge Eating Disorder

Teens with a binge eating disorder will not purge but will compulsively binge and feel guilty about it. They go through periods where they lose control and habitually binge once a week for several weeks in a row, followed by feelings of guilt, anger, and depression. After weeks or months of control, the cycle repeats.

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Treating Eating Disorders at Visions

Treatment for an eating disorder must address the complex physical and psychological consequences of obsessive diet control, binging, and/or purging. At Visions, we treat eating disorders via a combination of:

Talk Therapy

The first-line treatment for an eating disorder is therapy. One-on-one as well as group therapy can help a teen address the issues ultimately feeding their compulsion. Through talk therapy, teens learn to see themselves in a more accurate light and confront feelings of self-loathing.

Medical and Nutritional Treatment

Eating disorders severely impact the body and the mind, and teens who struggle with an eating disorder often have a skewed understanding of nutrition and health. Teens with a severe eating disorder will require medical care to help treat the side effects of binge eating, extreme dieting, or obsessive purging, as well as the help of a nutritionist to learn better eating habits and understand how important a balanced, sustainable, and healthy diet is for the body.

Continuing Care

Eating disorders can carry long-term consequences, and true recovery can be a lifelong process. At Visions, we help teens seek continuing care for their condition, finding resources and forging relationships with local support groups to create an effective support system.