EARLY YEARS: Signs of eating disorders parents should watch out for in teens

According to NEDA, out of nearly 500 young women surveyed, 13% suffered from an eating disorder by age 20
Treatment often requires a team of professionals, including a nutritionist, psychiatrist, medical doctor and therapist.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:58 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - When it comes to eating disorders, National Eating Disorders Association or NEDA’s tipline serves as a lifeline for families and individuals.

“On our tipline, we’ve been hearing so many stories about the pandemic and how that’s been affecting the mental health of adolescents and young adults,” says Elizabet Altunkara, NEDA’s Director of Education.

Altunkara says hospitalizations for eating disorders in adolescents grew during the first year of the pandemic.

She says some kids and teens are more prone to having eating disorders due to biological, psychological and social risk factors.

Those include a history of dieting, a family history of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, low self esteem, as well as a history of bullying and trauma.

So, how can parents tell if their daughter or son is heading in the wrong direction?

“Some of the physical warning signs are weight fluctuation, and the person starts having mood swings,” says Altunkara. And you’ll see the person is becoming more socially withdrawn.

Other signs to watch out for include dizziness, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, or a noticeable change in hair, skin or nails.

Treatment often requires a team of professionals: a nutritionist, psychiatrist, medical doctor and therapist. And that can get expensive.

Altunkara says efforts are under way for insurance companies to cover more of the treatment costs.

“Hopefully, that’s what we are fighting for; in the future, there will be a world without eating disorders, and also everybody is going to be able to access the care that they need,” says Altunkara.

And she says part of that starts with parents, setting a good example when it comes to their attitude toward food.

“As parents be a role model, children model our behavior, so we really have to think about our relationship with food,” says Altunkara.

If you or a loved one needs help, click here for NEDA’s helpline.