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Anorexia Nervosa in Teens: The Two-Year Window

Understand the signs and symptoms of eating disorders within children or teens…and take action today before it’s too late!

In our last blog, we discussed the differences between some of the most common eating disorders. Noticing the signs and symptoms early on can greatly improve long-term outcomes for those suffering with an eating disorder.  With more than 70% of adolescents being dissatisfied with their bodies and wanting to lose weight, an average of 35-57% of adolescent girls engaging in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or teas, or laxatives – it is no wonder why eating disorders are on the rise. Between 1988 and 1993 the incidence of bulimia in 10-39-year-old women TRIPLED! Don’t let the media convince you that this is a girls/women’s only issue. The rate of eating disorders in boys and men is growing at an alarming rate.

Anorexia Nervosa in Teens

Why do the first two years matter?

Studies show that receiving treatment for an eating disorder within the first two years of presenting symptoms leads to higher recovery rates and fewer instances of relapse. The reason for this is in part due to neurological changes that take place in the brain with chronic sufferers. Just like other major medical illnesses – eating disorders can advance and worsen without timely treatment.  The longer your child or teen is engaging in disordered eating patterns, displaying negative body image, and has a poor relationship with weight and food – the worse the prognosis.

How can I help my teen with an eating disorder?

Call your pediatrician and discuss your concerns about their behaviors surrounding food, weight, their body, and exercise. Your child’s pediatrician can review their growth chart, run labs to determine if there are abnormalities (, or recommend they begin seeing a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. Begin forming a highly qualified treatment team as this is vital if you suspect your child or teen has an eating disorder!

Who should be on the treatment team for my child with an eating disorder?

  1. Pediatrician – a pediatrician is the first line of defense and an invaluable tool when it comes to eating disorder treatment. They can monitor weights, labs, and refeeding syndrome.
  2. Psychologist/Therapist who specializes in eating disorders – it is important to choose highly qualified professionals to be on your treatment team. Eating disorders are complex and can quickly go from moderate to acute within a matter of weeks. They are the deadliest mental illness. It is important to have someone who knows the latest research and is competent in their field.
  3. Psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders – sometimes medications can play an active role in improving the outcomes of clients with eating disorders.  A psychiatrist can provide accurate information on medications that are useful with reducing depression or anxiety – two conditions often exhibited within clients with eating disorders.
  4. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders – an RDN plays a vital role of educating parents and the patient about the balance of nutrition and what the body needs to thrive. An RDN may assist clients in developing a food journal, meal plan, engaging in fear food exposures, or providing education on micro and macro nutrients – as well as setting weight ranges and caloric intake expectations.

Act Now! Don’t Wait!

If you suspect your child or teen is suffering from an eating disorder, or is exhibiting some early signs or symptoms then NOW is the time to act! Recovery rates in adults with anorexia range between 35-85%! Give your child or teen the opportunity to learn new strategies to cope with stress and the pressures of adolescence. Call us today so we can schedule an appointment with one of our eating disorder psychologists!

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Dr. Winton is the owner and clinical director at Integrated Care Clinic. She is a licensed psychologist that specializes in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, food anxiety, body image, intuitive eating, and perfectionism.

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