Everyone seems so focused on weight these days. Our society is obsessed with the “perfect” body for both men and women. The media promotes unrealistic body models and we are bombarded with it on a daily basis via television, magazines and the silver screen.
The worst part is that your teen is caught right smack in the middle of it all.
So how do you combat these wrong and potentially harmful messages? First, realize that all this misinformation that your teen is receiving could turn them into a dangerous dieter. A dangerous dieter is not quite a victim of an eating disorder, but they certainly aren’t pursuing a healthy lifestyle when it comes to diet and exercise. Learn the warning signs and head them off before it is too late.
10 Warning Signs your Teen may have an Eating Disorder
- They seem to lose a lot of weight very quickly. In the beginning of a diet, the person may seem to lose a lot of weight the first week or so. This is “water weight.” It isn’t a loss of fat, but just a loss of fluids that the body has been retaining. Healthy weight loss should be no more than 2 pounds per week. Any more weight loss than that should be done under the supervision of a health care professional.
- Lack of energy. This, of course, comes from a lack of calories. You need calories in order to create energy for your body. If you don’t take in any calories, you won’t have the energy. If your teen is lethargic or seems to have no energy, then you need to look into what they are eating, how much and how often. While in and of itself this characteristic is not necessarily indicative of a dangerous dieter, when combined with other warning signs it could signal a problem.
- They have a distorted body image. If your rail thin daughter still claims to feel “fat” then there may be a problem. And don’t assume that she is just seeking attention or “fishing” for compliments. If she seems sincere in her feelings about being fat even when she isn’t, that should be a very big red flag. This can happen to boys too.
- They over exercise. It may seem that when it comes to exercise you can’t get too much of a good thing. However, dangerous dieters will over exercise to the point of physical exhaustion. If they are engaging in unhealthy eating practices, this could also lead to a physical state that increases their risk of injury. If you note that their exercise seems to be going overboard, it is probably time to sit down and have a conversation.
- They are hungry all the time. A healthy eating plan should not leave you feeling hungry all the time. If you are always hungry then there is probably something missing in your diet. It could also signal a medical problem, but if it has never been a problem in the past, first assess your child’s diet. How balanced is it? How often are they eating? Ideally, they should be eating three small meals a day and two or three healthy snacks. That means they should be eating every two to two and a half hours.
- They get sick after eating. While this is a hallmark trait of bulimia, it isn’t confined solely to that disorder. Whether they purge after eating or they just get sick after eating can indicate the same type of problem. The mind is a powerful thing and if the child is convinced that they will get fat from eating, they make get sick enough to vomit. This could also indicate a gastrointestinal or other medical condition. Additionally, you should note that if someone has been eating very healthy for a period of time and then eats something loaded with fat it could make them sick because their body is accustomed to the healthy eating.
- They seem preoccupied with calories, fat, sugar, carbs, etc. It is normal to read labels and even keep food journals where you record what you eat and analyze it later. However, with that becomes an obsession and your teen is fanatical about counting calories, fat and other “diet busters,” then it may be time to tighten the reins. A diet should have boundaries, but if you go a gram or two of sugar over your daily allotment, it isn’t going to cause a time space paradox. You need to help your teen understand that.
- They exhibit medical and/or dental problems. Again, teens with eating disorders typically exhibit these, but a dangerous dieter can also experience things like dental problems, irregular or absence of periods, bloating or swollen cheek glands. If someone vomits frequently it could cause the blood vessels around the eyes to burst, making dark circles and bags.
- They are depressed or have mood swings. Improper diet, unhealthy foods and irregular meals can all cause you to be depressed or have mood swings. If you notice that your teen is suddenly experiencing these symptoms and it seems to coincide with weightloss or the decision to diet, then you need to look into what they are eating, how much and how often. Take steps to get them on a healthy eating plan, ensure that they are eating regularly and that they are getting enough calories.
- They become withdrawn. A combination of a lack of energy, poor body image and depression can cause a teen to withdraw from friends and family. They may begin to shun friends and stop engaging in activities that they once found enjoyable. If you notice that your teen is shrinking away from family and friends, you need to stop and talk with them. If you notice that it seems to occur in conjunction with a diet, then you need to take a good look at what exactly they are doing to lose weight.
The best thing that you can do for your child is to be involved with them. Talk to them regularly, not always as an authority figure, but as a friend. Then listen to what they have to say. If you aren’t in touch with your child, if you aren’t listening, you could wind up with a dangerous dieter and not even realize it until it is too late.
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”
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