How to recognize eating disorders in teenagers

Eating disorders are a common chronic condition among adolescent girls. OCH psychologist Erin Golden, PsyD takes a closer look at two: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In the the following post Dr. Golden breaks down the similarities and differences between each eating disorder, while also sharing recognizable signs and symptoms: 

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by:

  • An unrealistic fear of weight gain;
  • Self-starvation, or refusal to maintain body weight at or above normal weight;
  • A distortion of body image
  • And absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles (in women of appropriate age and health).

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the main feature is binge eating followed by unhealthy behaviors to compensate for such binge eating in order to prevent weight gain (e.g., purging). This includes:

  • Binge eating
  • Eating in a discrete period of time an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during these periods
  • Compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain such as: self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, fasting or excessive exercise;
  • This eating pattern occurs at least twice a week for three months (or longer)
  • A distorted body image.

Onset of anorexia nervosa starts mostly between 14 and 18 years, while for bulimia onset is around the time of transition from adolescence to early adulthood in adolescent and adult females, especially in female athletes, ballet students, fashion models and culinary students.  Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic condition among adolescent girls in the USA, after obesity and asthma. Although the occurrence of eating disorders is infrequent the outcomes of eating disorders are serious. Approximately 25–33% of patients with anorexia or bulimia nervosa develop a chronic disorder.

Eating disorders often co-occur with substance abuse disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders. Because anorexic females typically deny that any problem exits, treating the disorder is difficult. Hospitalization is often necessary to prevent life-threatening malnutrition.  Family therapy, aimed at changing parent-child interaction and expectations is the most successful treatment; still, only about 50% of anorexics fully recover. Bulimia is usually easier to treat than anorexia, using therapy focused on support groups, nutrition education, and revising eating habits and thoughts about food.

erin golden psychologistDr. Golden sees patients at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa. Her focus includes the evaluation/testing; individual and family therapy; adult and pediatric patients with depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, eating disorders, and behavioral issues. Dr. Golden worked as a psychologist in Arkansas since 2011. She received her education from the University of Michigan and the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Golden is currently a member of the Missouri Association of Play Therapists and the American Psychological Association. Dr. Erin Golden can accept Medicaid, Medicare and UHC Military insurances. To contact her, call the Nixa clinic (417) 724-3100 or fax (417) 725-7380.

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