Navigating Eating Disorders
Adolescence is a time where significant physical and emotional development happens. Usually, during this crucial time, many adolescents experience challenges with their body image which can sometimes lead to some individuals developing eating disorders.
Eating disorders tend to impact the lives of young people in a significant way and can have severe physical and psychological consequences.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that involve irregular eating patterns and an unhealthy relationship with food. The most commonly known eating disorders among adolescents are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Adolescents who develop eating disorders often experience a range of underlying factors which includes
Recognising the signs of an eating disorder:
- Drastic changes in weight, either gaining or losing rapidly
- Obsession with body shape, weight and appearance
- Preoccupation with food, excessive exercise and calorie counting
- Avoidance of social situations involving food
- Frequent trips to the bathrooms especially after meals
- Mood swings, anxiety, feelings of depression and withdrawal from enjoyable activities
Treatment and Recovery
Early intervention is vital in the successful treatment of eating disorders. A comprehensive approach that addresses the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects are crucial. Here are some of the key components of eating disorder treatment for adolescents:
- Medical and nutritional support: A team of medical professionals, nurses and allied health should monitor the physical health, address medical complications, provided psychoeducation to parents and help support meals that parents are working on to restore nutritional health.
- Psychological interventions: Individual and family based therapy session provide a safe space for adolescents as well as their parents to work through the eating disorder and promote a healthy emotional wellbeing and relationship with food.
- Supportive environment: Creating a supportive and understanding environment is important for the adolescent’s recovery. Schools, families and friends should foster an non-judgemental space to allow open communication, empathy and unconditional love.
- Collaborative care: A multidisciplinary team that can work together to create an individualised plan for the adolescent is crucial.
- Relapse Prevention: After the initial treatment, ongoing support is essential to maintain long term gains. This may involve regular sessions, support groups and health coping strategies to manage ongoing emotions.
Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that can affect the physical and emotional health. There are significant impacts on the physical health (e.g. irregular heart rate, hormonal changes, etc), emotional wellbeing, and overall quality of life. Early intervention, comprehensive treatment and ongoing support is important for successful recovery. By raising awareness, fostering a supportive environment and providing appropriate help, adolescents can be empowered to overcome eating disorders and embrace a healthier relationship with food.