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Identifying Eating Disorders in Teenage Girls


Eating disorders are not usually considered a primary diagnosis that stands alone. Rather, they are associated with other conditions, so are more properly a suite of symptoms that result from other troubles. This gives a way to spot possible eating disorders as they develop in teenage girls, instead of just waiting for full-blown symptoms to appear.

Common Associations with Eating Disorders

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the possible preconditions are:

* Social environment -- sometimes lumped in under the umbrella of peer pressure, this also includes cultural messages about weight and sets different targets (a single “correct” number, regardless of body type, or things like clothing sizes).

* Body image standards can have a lot to do with matching behaviors. Is your teen disgusted by those who are moderately overweight? Do they obsess about their own body or wear concealing clothing?

* Self-esteem, once it is linked to weight, is a powerful motivator. A teen that can take control of some part of their lives by altering their body may use this to feel better when other areas of their lives are being handled poorly.

* Biology -- the link to eating disorders and biology is not clear. However, it does seem like some teens are more prone to problems. Associated traits like perfectionism, rigid standards, uncompromising stances and a higher level of anxiety, may all play a role.

* Other activities outside of eating and weight loss will sometimes provide a clue. Some activities value a particular body style – ballet, running sports, performing arts, and others. Some activities, like wrestling, even have weight classes where dropping (or adding) pounds may be built in. Any of these, where the activity becomes an excuse to radically modify weight may be a problem.

More Overt Signs

Some signs are shared among those with eating disorders, whether they are a teen or not. For example, an inordinate focus on food, nutrition or exercise. Radical weight loss (or gain) is the most obvious, but by that time, behaviors may have already become established.

Signs of malnutrition may appear, among them amenorrhea and fatigue.

Discussions about weight in general will often bring up statements that seem out of place, particularly if your teen seems more knowledgeable than they ought to be. A simple check is to ask yourself how much time and effort your teen exerts to control weight, think about food, or spends exercising.

It’s important to realize that not all of the things described will fit. And it is important not to accuse or confront inappropriately. A parent’s instinct, especially a parent of the same sex, is probably the best guide.