Last week I talked about cutting and self-harm, behaviors that are associated with teenagers. I’d like to stay on the youth bandwagon and focus on an often overlooked issue; eating disorders. While adolescents are not the only ones affected by eating disorders, an eating disorder often develops during the teen years or right before. According to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual 5th Ed (DSM-V), or the mental health bible, there are three types of eating disorders that are likely to be diagnosed in adolescents or young adulthood; anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is a new edition to the DSM-V and is defined as an individual eating significantly larger amounts of food than most people in the same situation. The food is eaten fairly quickly and often leads to feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. Most people who binge do so alone. To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder this pattern of eating has to occur at least weekly for three months.
Anorexia nervosa typically affects adolescent girls and young woman, but more adolescent boys and young men are being diagnosed. This disorder is characterized by a distorted body image, extreme fear of becoming fat, and excessive dieting. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating that is followed by behaviors to avoid weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting and/or using laxatives. An individual with anorexia nervosa will be underweight and may appear unusually small or skinny, where as an individual with bulimia nervosa may be at a healthy weight for their height. This can make bulimia nervosa all the more difficult to diagnose and treat.
There are many youth and adults who are suffering in silence, hiding their disorder out of fear and shame. There are also many individuals who have a battle with food, but would not necessarily meet the criteria for an eating disorder. Eating disorders are one of the most difficult disorders to treat because food is always going to be a part of our life. However, eating disorders are about much more than just food. There is often an element of control involved; we maybe can’t control what is going on around us, but we can control what we put into our body. Treating an eating disorder is challenging but rewarding work. A good therapist will help a client change their relationship with food, but more importantly the relationship they have with themselves. If you are someone in your life is struggling with your relationship with food, please reach out. You deserve so much more.