Back to school can mean all kinds of things – new supplies, new outfits and a return to favorite after-school activities; but while these are all exciting aspects, for some teens, back to school can be incredibly challenging.
New, for some, is a terrifying phrase, and new classrooms, teachers and schedules can trigger mental health challenges that make the school year daunting and difficult. Included in this list of mental health concerns that have seen a shocking rise in recent years are teen eating disorders.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders range from anorexia (restricted/minimal intake of food that leads to malnutrition, muscle loss and overall loss of body weight), to bulimia (eating excessive amounts of food in a brief period of time and then inducing vomiting), to binge eating (eating excessive amounts of food, but not inducing vomiting).
Eating disorders may be taboo in everyday conversation, but they are one of the most common mental health conditions today. According to Harvard Health, “One in seven men and one in five women experiences an eating disorder by age 40, and in 95 percent of those cases the disorder begins by age 25.”
Young adults and teens are no exception to these statistics, and numerous cases have been reported in recent years, causing an alarming spike in deadly mental health disorders.
Eating disorder statistics report: “Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to their same-aged peers,” and “Males represent 25 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa, and they are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later since many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.”
So why are eating disorders so prevalent among young people?
What causes eating disorders in teens?
There is never one individual cause for the occurrence of an eating disorder. Oftentimes, it can be a combination of causes and even genetic makeup that may trigger symptoms of an eating disorder.
Kids spend an exorbitant amount of time on social media nowadays, which inundates their minds with images of what could be considered the perfect body shape; or they are presented with societal ideas of what it means to be accepted, many of which circle around physical beauty and perfectionism.
What teens fail to realize is that the filtered images they are seeing should in no way change their perceptions of their own bodies. We are all uniquely made, so forcing our bodies to all look the same should never be something they are encouraged to do. Sadly, though, constant exposure to these images online may slowly convince them otherwise.
Teens can be really, unnecessarily aggressive towards each other, both in person and online. If your teen has been the target of bullying, especially if the bullying has circled around physical appearance, they may be more prone to developing an eating disorder out of stress, seeking control over the situation or lack of self-esteem as a result of being the victim of bullying.
Change or transition
Oftentimes, changes like a move to a new school, a transition in the home or even the experience of extreme stress can trigger disordered eating behaviors. Divorce, the loss of a loved one or being the victim of abuse are also all possible causes of eating disorder behavior.
Kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well, and the pressure of academics, including increased expectations in high school versus middle school, may cause more stress and, consequently, more disordered eating behaviors.
A wide range of the sports teens participate in during high school have a strong focus on physical prowess. And while a balanced lifestyle of exercising and eating is ideal, not many teens are able to balance the demands of their sport with the demands of their bodies.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports that tend to emphasize diet, appearance, size and weight. In weight-class sports (wrestling, rowing, horseracing) and aesthetic sports (bodybuilding, gymnastics, swimming, diving) about 33 percent of male athletes are affected. In female athletes in weight class and aesthetic sports, disordered eating occurs at estimates of up to 62 percent.”
When is it time to seek help?
The last thing you want for your teen is for symptoms to become so severe that an eating disorder has become life-threatening. In order for this to be avoided, a number of symptoms may be noted that indicate help for an eating disorder is warranted.