What Are the Causes of Eating Disorders in Adolescence?

 In Addiction, Dual-Diagnosis, Life in Recovery, Substance Abuse

Today’s culture seems to encourage an obsession with appearance and having a lower body weight, thanks to the influence of peers and social media as well as other media sources. This conveys an unavoidable and potentially detrimental message to adolescents. Unrealistic expectations about weight can contribute to eating disorders. 

Some surveys indicate that 33% of teenage girls believe they are overweight while 56% of teens actively attempt to lose weight. One 2020 study indicated that higher numbers of Gen Z adolescents are engaging in weight loss and dieting practices and often overestimated their weight when asked. 

It is imperative that parents and caregivers learn about eating disorders and their signs. Read on to learn more about the causes of eating disorders in adolescents and more.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder that is centered on body image, body weight and an obsession with food and associated distressing emotions and thoughts. Eating disorders can affect physical, psychological and social aspects of life. They often go overlooked but can be deadly if left untreated. 

The most common types of eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder and other specified eating and feeding disorders, including pica and rumination disorder.

Eating disorders impact nearly 5% of the population while most develop during adolescence or young adulthood. Anorexia and bulimia are more common in women but can occur at any age or affect any gender. 

Eating disorders typically occur during adolescence or pre-adolescence. Over 90% of teens with eating disorders are female. 

Those with eating disorders often experience what is called body dysmorphia, which involves thinking about real or perceived flaws for hours each day coupled with an inability to control negative thoughts. People with eating disorders often find that they are inadequate due to their appearance and continue to struggle, often facing severe emotional distress, even if others reassure them that they are fine.

What Are the Signs of an Eating Disorder to Look Out For?

The signs of eating disorders can vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Each person may experience symptoms differently, but some of the most common signs of eating disorders include the following.

Emotional and Behavioral Signs of Eating Disorders

  • Preoccupation with weight, calories, food, carbohydrates, fat grams, dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods
  • Skipping meals or eating small portions at regular meals
  • Attitudes that indicate dieting, weight loss, control of food
  • Any new preoccupation or practices with fad diets or food, including removing entire food groups 
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Extreme concern with body shape and size
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Frequent dieting

Physical Signs of Eating Disorders

  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fainting/syncope
  • Stomach cramps or other gastrointestinal complaints
  • Frequently feeling cold
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Russell’s Sign (excoriations or scars on the back of hands/knuckles from induced vomiting)
  • Bizarre eating behaviors
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Dehydration
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Brittle nails
  • Muscle weakness
  • Discoloration of teeth or cavities, from vomiting
  • Swelling around salivary glands
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune function
  • Cold hands and feet or swelling of feet

What Are the Causes of Eating Disorders in Adolescence?

Several factors can contribute to the causes of eating disorders in adolescents, including genetics, unhealthy dieting techniques or hormonal changes – especially in girls. 

Adolescents who have experienced abuse are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders. Abuse may include physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Psychological influences can also play a significant part in the development of an eating disorder. Advertising and media convey mixed messages about what a person’s body “should” look like. Eating disorders are also linked with depression and anxiety as well as other mental illnesses. In fact, nearly 50% of people with eating disorders also suffer from mood disorders.  

Addiction and eating disorders often go hand in hand as well. According to an article published in Social Work Today, nearly 50 percent of people who struggle with an eating disorder also abuse alcohol or drugs – sometimes both. Furthermore, nearly 35 percent of people who use alcohol or illicit drugs have eating disorders in comparison with 3 percent of the general population.

Reach Out to Adolescent Wellness Academy Today

If you recognize any signs or causes of eating disorders in adolescents in your teen or a loved one, Adolescent Wellness Academy offers comprehensive eating disorder treatment for adolescents. Our caring professionals understand that each disorder comes with unique causes, health risks and symptoms. We understand that the process of recovery is individualized and needs to be handled differently. This is why we offer evidence-based treatments and therapies to ensure each patient receives the best help on their journey to recovery from a debilitating eating disorder. Reach out today for help. 

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