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Puberty comes with so many physical and social changes that it's hard for any teenager not to have a bout of low self esteem. Concerns about weight, eating, and the body in general are common in both girls and boys.

Eating disorders are something lots of parents worry about, and with good reason. What types of eating disorders are there, and what are their red flags? 

What are eating disorders?

Anorexia and bulimia are well-known eating disorders, and though the methods used by their respective sufferers vary, the results are similar a malnourished body. Other dangerously abnormal eating patterns can also be classified as eating disorders. Comfort eating is familiar to many adults, as well as to teens and younger kids. When done excessively, this results in morbid obesity. We could add any other less known dangerous eating pattern to the list. Rapid weight loss or weight gain, or even excessive eating or lack of eating, can be caused by medical disorders as well. Examples are Prader Willi Syndrome, Malabsorption Syndrome, lupus, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, lupus, and depression. This is something that parents must always consider before "diagnosing" their teen with an eating disorder . If you are worried about your child's eating or nutrition, you'll need to see a doctor in any case, and that is where other causes should be ruled out before diagnosing an eating disorder.

Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is, without a doubt, the most infamous eating disorder. Anorexia suffers attempt to lose ever more weight through an extremely low intake of calories. Anorexia patients often view themselves as being ugly and overweight, even when they are already severely malnourished. In an attempt to convince other people they are eating, anorexia sufferers may hide food and lie about eating. They may subsist on a diet of several hundred calories a day, or may quit eating altogether. Needless to say, anorexia is very dangerous. What is even more alarming is that the average age for anorexia sufferers has shifted from 13-17 to 9-12. Anorexia may the the eating disorder "of choice" in the modeling industry, but it is even more likely to strike today's tweens. Though boys do develop anorexia on occasion, girls are ten times as likely to have this horrific eating disorder. The symptoms and red flags? Most commonly:

  • Continuous weight loss
  • Being underweight
  • Depression
  • Fear of eating and putting on weight
  • Obsession with scales
  • Lack of menstrual cycles
  • Obsession with food, cooking, and rituals surrounding food
  • Using laxatives, vomiting, or weight loss pills
  • Exercising compulsively
  • In the later stages, all the symptoms of starvation: Abdominal distenstion (the swollen "balloon" belly commonly seen in famine-struck areas), feeling cold all the time, being fatigued, having swollen joints, and a bad breath.
  • Others, such as low potassium levels, which healthcare professionals should check for.

Bulimia

Think about bulimia, and most people will immediately associate it with induced vomiting. Anorexia sufferers also frequently throw up, but the difference is that bulimia sufferers will first binge eat. Those with bulimia will typically consume large amounts of food in a single session, only the purge them soon after. The goal is the same as with anorexia weight loss or a thin body. Bulimia is actually more common than anorexia. Bulimia symptoms include:

  • Binge eating
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Dental erosion that is immediately obvious to others
  • An obsession with food and calories, as well as losing weight
  • Depression
  • Lack of menstrual cycle
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constant trips to the bathroom
  • Making excuses about food

Binge eating disorder Binge eating disorder has most of the same symptoms as bulimia, minus the purging. It is the most frequent eating disorder in the United States today, with 3.5 percent of women and two percent of men being affected. Binge eating disorder has a major benefit it is visible to other people. That is no help to many suffering from this disorder abbreviated as BED, because their problems with food mostly come from childhood and deeply-rooted problems within the family. The symptoms and signs include:

  • Binge eating often enormous amounts, either hidden or in plain view, when anxious, depressed, bored, or with no specifiable reason
  • Overweight, obesity, morbid obesity
  • Depression
  • Rapid weight gain, even when already obese

Orthorexia

Orthorexia is not officially an eating disorder, but has been the subject of much discussion in the media. Orthorexia is the extreme obsession with foods perceived to be healthy, or avoiding foods perceived as unhealthy. Orthorexia is rather controversial, but it deserves a mention, I think. I have seen it in person in a friend who became so obsessed with organic eating than she believes anything else to be poison. When she has no money or no access to organic food, she doesn't eat. Is this an eating disorder? I am not qualified to say, but it is certainly a serious mental health problem that involves food.

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