The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
Eating disorders affect millions of people of all ages, but especially adolescents? Why is this the case?
Adolescence is a period of dramatic changes, and both the brain and body can change rapidly. When you add the pressures that kids feel from social media, popular culture, family, and friends, it can add up to an eating disorder.
When children hit adolescence, which is the period between the onset of puberty and adulthood, their brain is changing.
One major change that occurs at this time involves the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for much of our critical thinking abilities.
Since adolescence starts with puberty, there are also emotional changes brought on by hormones and the brain’s development. Children may become more self-aware and may start to think about their bodies differently.
Adolescents may start to think more abstractly and more about themselves in relationship to the wider world at this age. They may start to feel unhappy about where they are, who they are, their body, their face, etc.
As you can start to see, it’s no surprise that adolescence may be a particularly vulnerable time for kids, many of whom may start developing disordered eating.
If you would like more guidance on the topic of adolescence, you may wish to consider the helpful online resources available through BetterHelp.
Eating Disorders and Adolescence
Eating disorders are legitimate mental health conditions, not simply someone who skips a meal once in a while or who tends to eat a bit too much.
To be diagnosed, an eating disorder must be unhealthy and disruptive and generally stems from deep insecurities and unhappiness.
Since adolescents may be on a rollercoaster of emotions, they are more susceptible to feeling unhappy with themselves and desperate to change. They may also be more vulnerable to unrealistic depictions of bodies on social media and in popular culture, which can exacerbate their perception of their own bodies—something known as body dysmorphia.
In fact, eating disorders are most common among young women, which includes adolescents. Boys struggle with eating disorders as well, although probably to a lesser degree. Some of this may be social stigma against males being vulnerable or having eating disorders, however.
Common eating disorders that adolescents may develop include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and bigorexia.
Adolescents are vulnerable. They are too young to take care of themselves in many ways and they may be particularly prone to extreme mood swings and insecurities.
It’s essential to recognize the signs of an eating disorder so that you can know whether your adolescent needs help. Getting the guidance of a doctor or licensed counselor is a good first step, and there are also hotlines that you could reach out to.
In any case, it’s essential to be proactive so that your adolescent gets the help they need.
Sadly, eating disorders only appear to be on the rise, affecting millions of adolescents in the United States alone. This may be due to the toxic atmosphere created by social media and popular culture, one that puts photoshopped and surgically modified bodies on a pedestal. We should all do our part to resist this aspect of our culture so that adolescents grow up with a healthier conception of their own body and a healthier level of self-esteem.