Teen Anorexia Treatment
While anorexia is a very common eating disorder, it is also often misunderstood. This complex and confusing illness causes teens to struggle or feel compelled to exercise and count calories, leading to a disturbingly low overall body weight. Teens with Anorexia are almost always overwhelmed with fear of becoming “fat;” they will do almost anything to avoid gaining weight.
Teens with eating disorders like anorexia suffer from distorted thinking around body image; treatment of these distorted thought patterns is critical. Left untreated, they can become very ill and develop physical health complications that follow them for the rest of their lives.
It is never acceptable to use the word anorexia or “anorexic” to label someone who merely appears to be very thin. Anorexia is a serious and complicated medical condition that can, and often does, become fatal – it isn’t the same as a genetic propensity to be small.
What Does Anorexia Look Like?
- Teens struggling with anorexia eat little to no food. They will occasionally binge eat to control hunger, but may follow up by using diuretic or enema products to flush as much food back out of their bodies as possible. They are also prone to exercising excessively.
- Anorexia can cause malnutrition, cardiac complications, and death if left untreated. Teens with anorexia often struggle or exhibit poor performance at school and work. Their lack of nutrition leads to concentration problem, memory issues, and sleep disturbances.
- Teens who are anorexic often show signs of low self-esteem. They seem stressed and are constantly focused on finding ways to exert control over what they perceive as a lack of control over their lives. Their weight becomes the one thing they feel they can control without interference or issue.
Signs of Anorexia Disorder
Brittle hair and weak nails
Blood Pressure Problems (Usually Low)
Brain damage from malnutrition
Lethargy and fatigue
Depression and anxiety
What Causes Anorexia?
The majority of anorexia cases begin as a teen struggles to find a way to cope with some sort of fear, worry, or stressor. There are also biopsychosocial factors to consider.
Social Factors – Women tend to struggle with anorexia more often than men. Teens are especially susceptible as social media and ads give them an unrealistic perception of health and beauty or how they should look. They see that some careers favor thin women over others and attempt to change their own appearances to meet those unrealistic standards. Some teens are more susceptible to advertising messages than others, leading to disordered eating habits.
The truth is that body weight is influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, hormone fluctuations, exercise, and general nutrition. It’s not necessarily unhealthy to have a “thin” body, but it’s unrealistic to try to create a drastic change to fit into a particular mold.
Psychological Factors – In some cases, underlying mental health disorders contribute to the development of anorexia. The most common of these are obsessive-compulsive disorders that lead teens to obsess about having ultimate control over every calorie entering the body. Constant and ongoing stress can create high levels of anxiety, worsening symptoms of both disorders or even triggering teens to become ill in the first place.
Biological Factors – Scientists aren’t yet certain how genetics and anorexia relate, but they do know that teens with a family history of mental illness are more likely to develop eating disorders. The additional risk is especially high for teens who are sensitive to chaos, disorder, the drive to be “perfect,” or the need to constantly be in control.
of people with anorexia are female.
of girls have dieted by the age of nine.
of school-age girls think they need to lose weight.
How Can I Help My Teen with Anorexia?
Educate Yourself - The more you know about anorexia, the better you’ll understand the thought processes and symptoms your teen is struggling with. Teens with a history of anxiety are especially prone to anorexia; however, peer pressure and other forms of stress can also trigger disordered eating, too.
Anorexia is just one of several unique eating disorders and conditions. Almost all develop as a teen tries to cope with some other issue in life in tandem with the process of growing up and maturing. Identifying your teen’s triggers is one of the first steps in treating the underlying mental health concerns causing them to turn towards weight control as a coping mechanism.
Support Your Teen After Treatment - Studies show that up to 20 percent of people with untreated eating disorders ultimately die as a result of associated symptoms, side effects, and health complications. Those who receive teen anorexia treatment are very likely to make a complete recovery. Even teens who partially recover frequently go on to have a positive prognosis, living healthy lives with continued support. Both healthy and unhealthy teens will still need lifelong support.
Talk to Your Teen - Don’t force them to talk but do encourage them. They need to know you’re there for them and that you can be trusted. This means listening without casting judgment, which can be a tall order for parents who are frightened of the associated symptoms. The more they trust you, the more they’ll open up to you about how they feel. The better you know them, the easier it becomes to identify recurring symptoms and patterns associated with their illness.
What Types of Teen Anorexia Treatment Are Available?
Anorexia can turn into a chronic condition, especially among teen girls who are constantly exposed to stressors. Treating it takes time, but the lessons learned in therapy are critical to long-term recovery. In therapy, teens gain better coping skills to help them avoid returning to their unhealthy habits.
Talk therapy, aka psychotherapy, is the number one treatment for most eating disorders. The goal is to help teens better understand their condition and how their behaviors are harming them. They then learn to identify the tools necessary to create change. Therapy for anorexia takes time, but most teens make persistent progress over the course of months or a few years.
The biggest consideration for parents is that change won’t happen until teens are ready to accept their diagnosis. Initial efforts focus on this critical first step. Once teens are ready to start working on their skills, they move on to learn how to re-evaluate negative thought patterns and reverse problematic rationalizations. Then, they spend time building new coping skills to replace unhealthy control mechanisms. The most popular talk therapy methods include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Medication can’t actually cure anorexia, but it often alleviates anxiety and related symptoms. As a result, patients are better able to communicate and work with their care team. Most medications calm irrational thought patterns and mood swings; this is especially important when there is an underlying psychotic cause for the disorder. Some teens have such a distorted self-image they may even need antipsychotic medications. In most cases, antidepressants are enough to help a teen cope with the anxiety or depressive symptoms that come with anorexia.
Support groups are an important part of recovery both during teen anorexia treatment and after. Teens often benefit from working with and learning from others who are facing the same struggles. They find comfort in being able to support each other as they work towards building healthier lifestyle habits. It’s also far easier to socialize with peers without feeling the need to hide.
Teen Anorexia Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco
The number one goal of any treatment program for anorexia is to protect a teen’s physical well-being. For most teens, this means including carefully planned interventions that address their diet and exercise choices while helping them back to a healthy weight goal. A lot of teens are resistant when they first start out, so this process takes time.
Dedicated Treatment Plans
Teens in the residential programs at Paradigm San Francisco are carefully monitored from beginning to end. They are welcomed into a supportive environment where they will be safe and loved while receiving the medical and psychological attention they need to heal. Paradigm’s team of therapists works with each teen to help them better understand related behavior patterns contributing to their disorder. Over time, we teach them how to identify unrealistic and irrational beliefs and to deal with stress in a safer manner.
Most teens who come to Paradigm know they are stressed; they can’t always immediately identify why. Paradigm San Francisco empowers teens to develop better relationships with food and, ultimately, with themselves. Our programs are non-judgmental, objective, and completely safe for teens, who know they are surrounded by people who understand their struggles.
Unfortunately, teens who experience disordered eating often believe those problematic habits will gain them attention. They may falsely believe thinner bodies will make them popular, more attractive, or even more loved. Over time, they become anorexic as they struggle to compete with a false sense of value or worth.
It takes time to change these patterns, but that’s why socialization is an important part of teen anorexia treatment at Paradigm facilities. Teens learn that people will like them and treat them well no matter what they weigh, what they eat, or how much they exercise. By the time they leave our program, they are newly focused on living a healthy lifestyle with emphasis on self-respect.
“ Our 16-year has been struggling with anxiety and severe depression and seemed stuck. We felt we had nowhere else to go. After 40 days, I feel like we've gotten our daughter back! It’s been an amazing experience. She now has tools, perspective, improved self love and a resilience we haven't seen in two years. “
– Robert L.
Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Anorexia
What should I do if I suspect anorexia but my teen denies it?
Communication is the key to building a strong bond and trust. Make some time to talk, but do it in a place where you know your child feels safe and comfortable. Let them know about the behaviors you have observed and how you think they are impacting their life.
The most important part of any conversation with your teen is that you not come off as judgmental, angry, or aggressive. Don’t try to assume what your child is thinking or feeling. Let them know you are worried. Sometimes, they just need to see that they are hurting themselves or their relationships.
If that doesn’t work, make an appointment for your teen to see their doctor. A lot of teens will accept the opinion of a third-party over their parents. Your teen is still likely to resist help, but they may become more open to it over time.
What’s the difference between anorexia nervosa and bulimia?
Teens who struggle with anorexia are more likely to exercise compulsively and drop very quickly to a startlingly low body weight. They may also eat very little, attempt self-starvation, and have very low body fat ratios.
Bulimia is another form of disordered eating in which teens restrict calories and lose weight; however, it is not necessarily the same. Teens with bulimia attempt to control their weight by avoiding food for as long as possible; then, they binge, ingesting thousands of calories in a single sitting. After eating, they’ll try to purge the food from their systems by causing themselves to vomit or by abusing laxatives.