How to Spot Eating Disorders in Your Teen or Child - morgan and morgan
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How to Spot Eating Disorders in Your Teen or Child

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How to Spot Eating Disorders in Your Teen or Child

Discovering or even having the suspicion that your child or teen suffers from an eating disorder can be heartbreaking. It can be a complicated issue to navigate, and it can be all the more difficult to determine the underlying cause. It’s important to know, however, that it’s not your child’s fault and that, with the right help, children and young adults can make a lasting recovery from this unfortunate circumstance—and you can play an important role in it.

One of the major known causes of eating disorders in young people is social media. Unfortunately, the social media platforms that are supposed to help keep us connected can instead keep us disconnected from reality, with unattainable beauty standards attacking content feeds and causing body dysmorphia and eating disorders in social media victims like teens and even younger children.

When a young adult, preteen, or even child observes visual content that features modified and retouched images of models, they can interpret that as an actual attainable beauty standard to aspire to, and sometimes the consequences of reaching such standards can be life threatening.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex conditions that cause people to develop severely disrupted eating habits. It is significantly different from simple dieting or trying to lose weight. Eating disorders are mental illnesses that can take over someone's life and the lives of the people who are closest to them. Although eating disorders are most common amongst teenage girls, anyone of any gender, age, or background can develop an eating disorder.

Young adults suffering from an eating disorder usually have an obsession with their appearance, weight, and body shape. This causes them to control or restrict their food intake, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food. These unhealthy behaviors can cause a host of long-term psychological and physical problems, some of which can even be long-lasting.

Eating disorders from social media or eating disorders from Facebook use can continue as the use of those platforms continue. 

Types of Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is more than just an unhealthy habit; it’s a medical condition, often triggered by the marketing of larger corporations. But not every eating disorder is the same. There are several different dangerous behaviors your child may perform, including:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – severe food restriction
  • Bulimia Nervosa – binging on large amounts of food and then purging
  • Muscle Dysmorphia – disruptive obsession with musculature and physique
  • Diabulimia – the use of diabetic prescription insulin to try to induce weight loss
  • Orthorexia Nervosa – obsession with eating healthy to the point of life disruption

Signs That Someone Is Suffering From an Eating Disorder

If you suspect that someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, there are tell-tale signs that you can observe to better understand their condition. 

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Compulsive or excessive exercising
  • Unusual behavior around food 
  • A sudden interest in cooking but refusing to eat what they have cooked
  • Wanting to eat alone or in secret
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Vomiting after eating or going to the toilet immediately after eating
  • Eating large quantities of food without appearing to gain weight
  • Repeatedly weighing themselves
  • Social isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • Abnormally low or high weight
  • Long-term weight stagnation (adolescents typically continue to put on weight until the age of 20)
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling cold
  • Stomach pains
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Mouth infections
  • Sensitive or damaged teeth
  • Scars on their fingers, knuckles, or the back of their hand from making themselves sick
  • Bad breath

Psychological symptoms:

  • Having an obsession with appearance and other people's perception of their body
  • Talking about feeling guilty after eating
  • Getting stressed at mealtimes
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Intense mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and impulses

How Social Media Can Influence Your Child’s Eating Disorder

Social media’s influence on your child’s mental health isn’t just an assumption. Even former employees of the largest social media companies have said the same.

In 2021, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate committee, where she accused the company of ignoring the harm caused by its social platforms. Haugen went on record saying, "Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content." 

A year later, a lawsuit was filed against the social media company Meta known as Alexis, Kathleen, and Jeffrey Spence v. Meta Platforms, Inc. The lawsuit claims that 11-year-old Alexis Spence developed an eating disorder due to social media use. 

According to research in a spring 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook's internal message board, "Thirty-two percent of girls under the age of 26 said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse."

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Morgan & Morgan

  • Who Can Get an Eating Disorder?

    Eating disorders can develop in virtually anyone, although young adults aged 26 or younger are especially susceptible as their brains and psychological norms are still in development. This is why social media, targeted toward younger audiences, can be especially dangerous.

  • What Can Be Done to Help Someone With an Eating Disorder?

    You can help your child by being an active and supportive part of their life. Encourage them to get involved and to form healthy habits. You can also help eliminate their stressors by motivating them to have a proper and healthy balance in their lives. Most importantly, you should monitor their social media use and ensure that they are safe and uninfluenced by other users or the apps themselves.

  • Do Social Media Companies Know About Their Effect on Kids?

    According to multiple lawsuits, social media companies are not only fully aware of their effect but are intentionally manipulating vulnerable youth. If your child has suffered from the use of social media sites and apps, you can consider joining others who seek justice and want to make the world safer for the next generation.

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Last updated on Oct 09, 2022

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