Our adolescent girls are suffering during this pandemic. As a result, eating disorders in adolescents are on the rise.
Before the pandemic, 5% of adolescent girls showed signs of an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia). Recent reports suggest the number is much higher. The mean age of onset is a young 12.5 years old.
Girls today have been raised in a culture that defines beauty as thinness. Recent troubles began during the pandemic when schools were locked down & activities were suspended. The changes in routine, lack of social connections, heightened anxiety & increase use of social media – their only outside connection were detrimental.
During the pandemic, more time on social media & the Internet allowed adolescent girls to compare their body image to thin peers & influencers online. They began to rely on superficial means of building self-esteem, such as “likes” and/or “comments” on a post.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline has seen a 40% jump in overall calls since March 2020. Thirty-five percent of these calls were from teens 13 to 17 years old. The NEDA helpline is available Monday – Thursday, 9am – 9pm or Friday 9am – 5pm ET at 800-931-2237 or http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/helplinechat.
Girls with eating disorders tend to be anxious & stress sensitive to begin with. They don’t do well with uncertainty. You may have recognized that your daughter is like this.
Some teenagers discover control of eating as a way to deal with stress. When the pandemic created a huge lack of control, girls with anorexia began to control (or limit) their food intake. Girls with binge eating did the opposite & ate in a way that lacked control. Availability of food while confined at home may have promoted relief-eating to combat boredom or stress.
Without the structure of school during the pandemic, high achieving adolescents may have turned their attention to physical health & appearance as a way to cope. Remember that eating disorders are influenced by several factors: genetic, psychological, social, & environmental changes.
There are early signs to look out for in your tween or teen:
- any sudden loss of weight (10 to 20 pounds)
- pretending to eat, by pushing food around on their plate
- skipping family meals, “I’m not hungry.”
- refusing to eat food from certain categories (like carbs)
- a new fixation on carefully counting calories
- a new obsession with exercising
- hoarding food (may be a sign of a binge eating)
- outwardly stating dissatisfaction with her body image or weight
- self-induced vomiting, or laxative use
- eating past fullness
If you are seeing disordered behaviors & your child is adopting a defensive stance when you bring up those concerns, your child may be dealing with an eating disorder. There is much more info for parents at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
New guidance for pediatricians on diagnosis & treatment was published recently by the AAP.https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/147/1/e2020040279
Early identification & intervention play a crucial role in successful treatment of eating disorders. When caught early there is a greater chance of recovery with treatment. Please talk to your pediatrician or family doctor.