How to know if your teenager has anorexia or bulimia

One of the collateral effects of the pandemic has been the increase in eating disorders. Confinement, the closure of educational centers and the change of routines to forced marches are some of the causes that have triggered the number of adolescents suffering from anorexia and bulimia, among other conditions related to eating.

Although it is popularly thought that the disease is suffered by people who want to be thinner, its trigger is much more complex and emotional difficulties are anchored. Before the outbreak of the health crisis, a study carried out by the University of California confirmed that eating disorders (ED) affect people of all sizes and their origin is not in wanting to lose weight.


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“The obsession with thinness is the best known symptom. A sign of an excessive need for control, self-esteem based on appearances, pathological perfectionism and difficulties in interpersonal relationships, both with family and with friends and partner ”, explains Antoni Grau, psychologist and clinical director of the Ita Group. These types of conditioning factors usually appear when emotional education is deficient and are aggravated by external messages such as, for example, critical comments from parents or other figures of reference.

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Also, through the consumption of social media accounts that promote fictional bodies supported by filters and artificial poses. “Emotional education is necessary to avoid this and other mental health problems. There is a need to promote self-esteem, love and approval, not only linked to the achievement of achievements, but also fostering unconditional esteem and acceptance ”, explains Montse Sánchez Povedano, clinical psychologist and founder of the Eatica clinic.

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Third parties

Comments on the physical appearance of those who have not yet reached emotional maturity can lower self-esteem and encourage personal comparisons, usually with impossible canons. “In people predisposed to have an ED, social comparisons are predominantly upward (with individuals with better aptitudes), producing low self-esteem that attempts are made to alleviate with new upward comparisons to improve themselves. The result is an increase in the level of unsatisfied demand ”, shares the psychologist. Something that, coupled with a culture deficient in promoting healthy autonomy, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food as an emotional outlet.

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The role of parents is key in the detection of eating disorders

The disorder may appear, for example, as an element to interpose boundaries between the adolescent and the family. “The binge-vomiting cycle emerges, among other behaviors, as an emotional regulation mechanism in the face of instability, problems in impulse control, the feeling of emptiness, loneliness or boredom,” adds Sánchez. The role of parents in identifying possible symptoms and monitoring are key attitudes for those affected to overcome these diseases. These are some of the conditions that can lead to eating disorders.



A high perfectionism

Those who seek perfection are more vulnerable to these disorders. “Specifically, high perfectionism is the most important dimension and is associated with maintaining absolute control over all aspects of life. It is something that persists even after the patient’s recovery, ”explains Sánchez. As in any area in which a perfectionist is involved, his standards of demand regarding the body are also unattainable, something that leads these young people to always see deficiencies or excesses in their anatomy. This results in a body distortion, related to what experts call low central coherence. “It is the difficulty of integrating the details within a global context. It usually appears together with a selective attention that makes them fixate on specific stimuli, inhibiting the perception of others. For example, they will focus more on images of slender bodies than on other types of silhouettes, ”continues the psychologist. Perfectionism implies a certain fear of failure, something that according to the specialist is channeled through the disease.



Difficulties in social relationships

There is a tendency to social isolation in those who suffer from these disorders, derived from difficulties in adapting to the peer group, insecurity or social anxiety. “Frequently the affected person becomes progressively isolated, thus deteriorating their friendships and supportive relationships,” Grau warns. One of the causes of distancing is usually the lack of assertiveness of young people who suffer from this condition, related to insufficient capacity to establish personal limits. “These profiles show an intense need for external approval trying to please, obey and conform,” says Sánchez.




The inability of some people to identify and express their emotions is another characteristic of those who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or any other manifestation of distortions in eating behavior. “Alexithymia is a characteristic that is also related to a certain difficulty in enjoying pleasure,” says Sánchez.



A depressed and irritable state

That a person has constant mood swings or maintains a depressed mood are attitudes to which you should pay attention. Those who emotionally suffer from this situation and are affected by bulimia, use food to feel better, but immediately a guilt assails them that leads them to purge themselves. Something similar happens with binge eating, in this case it is the excessive intake that also becomes a reason for suffering. “Often these behaviors are accompanied by a depressed mood, irritability and very intense anxiety,” suggests Grau.


Follow unjustified diets

Concatenating diets, counting calories or showing a restrictive attitude with too many foods are indicators of a possible disorder. The simple act of going on a diet increases concern about body image, even more so when it is not needed. “The unjustified use of restrictive diets, using excuses such as ‘I’ve already eaten out’, developing a feeling of guilt for having eaten or actions such as locking oneself in the bathroom after lunch or dinner are alarm signals,” emphasizes Sánchez.

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Wear loose clothing

If the garments oversize They were not among the style codes of the person and, suddenly, just wearing baggy clothes may indicate that something is wrong. This behavior usually responds to two reasons. One of them is that the distortion of the body image can increase insecurity, which would lead the affected person to hide their body. Another reason is to mask drastic weight loss caused by food restriction or vomiting. That the person involved refuses to go to the beach, swimming pool or to put on a bathing suit is another suspicious behavior.

The keys

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Empathy, firmness and support are essential at the time of this disease. “It is necessary to start from the basis that the person who suffers from it suffers from intense emotional discomfort. Therefore, it is important not to minimize the problem or look the other way. These types of disorders never go away on their own. Its tendency, if nothing is done to prevent it, is to worsen ”, indicates Grau. The psychologist invites you to address the situation frankly. “Be firm that we know something is wrong, but empathetic. We must flee from the conspiracy of silence, seek support from trusted people and go to specialized mental health professionals, ”he continues.

For his part, Sánchez invites us to act quickly to prevent the disorder from becoming chronic. “The healing process is complex and its success is related to factors such as age of onset, personality traits and family environment, time of illness and the person’s ability to describe and understand themselves without the eating disorder,” Sánchez shares, revealing how the condition can last 10 or 20 years from its onset.

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