Many individuals who develop eating disorders do so during adolescence. Teenagers, especially young women, appear to be particularly susceptible to thoughts and behaviors that constitute disordered eating. Many girls who have teen eating disorders continue to struggle with food and body image issues into adulthood. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as 10 percent of young women in the United States have an eating disorder. Teen eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a catchall category called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
Virtually all teen eating disorders are marked by extremes in thoughts and behavior regarding food. In the case of some diagnoses, it could be extreme food restriction, overexercising or severe distress in regard to weight and food consumption. With other diagnoses, it could be extreme binge eating and possibly purging after overconsumption.
One of the major types of teen eating disorders is anorexia nervosa. The disease is characterized by a pronounced fear of weight gain, distorted and unrealistic body image and an inability or unwillingness to maintain a normal, healthy weight. Most teens with anorexia severely restrict food intake and might exercise excessively. Some teenagers with anorexia might vacillate between binging and purging on large amounts of food and then restricting food intake again. The distinction between bulimia and this type of anorexia is that a young woman will be given an anorexia diagnosis only if she is underweight and stops having her menstrual period.
Bulimia nervosa is another one of the major teen eating disorders. This disease is characterized by sessions of binge eating followed by behaviors to try to undo or negate the consumption of calories. These compensatory behaviors can include vomiting, fasting, use of diuretics and excessive exercise. Anorexia can be apparent because of a sufferer’s low body weight, but bulimia can be difficult to detect. Many teens with the disease maintain an average weight despite their behaviors.
Another diagnosis that a physician might give a teen is Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS). A clinician might use this diagnosis when a patient meets most, but not all, of the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia. For instance, some young women meet all of the criteria for an anorexia diagnosis, but they still have regular menstrual periods. This category also includes binge-eating disorder, which has become increasingly common. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating extremely large quantities of food in one sitting but without the compensatory behaviors common to bulimia.
Teen eating disorders can be insidious, long lasting and even life threatening. Out of all of the mental illnesses, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate. If any individual suspects a friend or loved one might be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help.