Teens these days face so many issues, and have so many stressful things going on in their lives. Social media, friends, school, parents, jobs, and relationships, just to name a few. Add to that concerns over body image, and it can feel overwhelming. As puberty ensues and bodies change, many will embrace their new body, happy to have curves or muscles. For others, they will learn to hate their bodies, and somehow their self-worth will feel connected to how they look.
While most teens, especially girls, are unhappy with their bodies, most still manage to stay healthy and maintain a body weight within the normal range. Unfortunately, many others, both male and female, will actually develop an eating disorder. This includes anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and even others.
Eating disorders are not an issue to be taken lightly. Eating disorders can be fatal. They wreak havoc on your body, as it tries everything to protect itself from starvation,damage, and eventually even failure. When denied the nutrients required to function properly, the body begins to shut down. The digestive system is affected, causing problems with electrolytes and chemical balance affecting the heart and other major organs. This can result in:
- Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, increased risk for heart failure rises
- Osteoporosis, which causes dry, brittle bones.
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
- Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.
- Growth of a layer of hair all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.
- Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.
- Electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
- Potential for gastric rupture from bingeing.
- Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
- Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
A review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011).
For young females suffering from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death (Sullivan, 1995).
Here are some other alarming facts:
- Eating disorders have been increasing since 1950 (Hudson et al., 2007; Streigel-Moore &Franko, 2003; Wade et al., 2011).
- More young women 15-19 have been diagnosed with eating disorders in each decade since 1930 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).
- The number of cases of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).
This is frightening. We need to be doing a better job of educating teens about the seriousness of eating disorders, and what to do if they or someone they know has developed one. Here is what to look out for:
- Restricting calories leading to significantly low body weight
- Binge eating
- Purging behaviors, such as vomiting, use of laxatives, fasting
- Feeling not in control of what one eats
- Fear of gaining weight or being fat, and behaviors that prevent weight gain (such as excessive exercise)
- Skewed image of oneself, such as not recognizing how underweight one is
If you or someone you know shows signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait until the damage is irreversible to the body. Take action now, as it might literally save somebody’s life. Here is what to do:
- Talk to your friend and tell them what you’ve noticed. Tell them you care about them and are concerned about their well-being.
- If you or a friend collapse or feel sick, call 9-1-1. This could be a blessing in disguise, as it often takes this occurring to start the process of getting help.
- Tell a teacher, counselor or parent. Express to them that you need help or that your friend needs help.
- Do whatever it takes to find a treatment program and an experienced therapist.
- Be there for a friend along the way by being supportive.
- Whatever you do, don’t ignore or minimize the problem. This is literally a matter of life and death.