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Disordered eating in young people: What to look for and how to help

Disordered eating is a term used to describe a range of unhealthy eating habits and attitudes towards food. It can include behaviors such as binge eating, purging, restrictive eating, and overeating. Disordered eating can affect people of all ages, but it is particularly common in young people.

What are the signs and symptoms of disordered eating in young people?

Some common signs and symptoms of disordered eating in young people include:

  • Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image

  • Changes in eating habits, such as eating very little or very much food, or avoiding certain foods altogether

  • Extreme weight loss or gain

  • Mood swings, irritability, and fatigue

  • Withdrawing from social activities

  • Self-harm

What are the risk factors for disordered eating in young people?

There are a number of factors that can increase a young person's risk of developing disordered eating, including:

  • Family history: Disordered eating can run in families, so a young person is more likely to develop it if they have a family member with an eating disorder.

  • Mental health conditions: Young people with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are at increased risk of developing disordered eating.

  • Body image pressure: Young people are often bombarded with messages about the importance of being thin and attractive. This pressure can lead to disordered eating behaviors in an attempt to achieve the ideal body image.

  • Social media: Social media can also contribute to disordered eating by exposing young people to unrealistic images of beauty and body image standards.

How to help a young person with disordered eating

If you are concerned that a young person you know may have disordered eating, it is important to talk to them about it. Let them know that you are there for them and that you want to help. It is also important to encourage them to seek professional help from a doctor, therapist, or registered dietitian.

Here are some additional tips for helping a young person with disordered eating:

  • Be supportive and understanding: It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for the young person to heal. Let them know that you understand what they are going through and that you are there for them.

  • Encourage them to seek professional help: A doctor, therapist, or registered dietitian can provide the young person with the support and guidance they need to recover from disordered eating.

  • Help them to develop healthy eating habits: Work with the young person to develop a healthy eating plan that meets their individual needs. This may involve teaching them about portion control, balanced meals, and healthy snacks.

  • Encourage them to be physically active: Physical activity can help to improve the young person's mood, energy levels, and self-esteem. Encourage them to find activities that they enjoy and that they can do regularly.

  • Be patient: Recovery from disordered eating takes time and effort. Be patient with the young person and offer them your support throughout the process.

Remember, you are not alone

There are many resources available to help young people with disordered eating and their families. If you are concerned about a young person you know, please reach out for help.

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