To learn your child is being bullied can be hard to handle; to hear that your child may also have an eating disorder related to the bullying can be devastating. Unfortunately, this is the case for many. Studies are showing a direct link between being bullied and disordered eating.
The International Journal of Eating Disorders published additional results that showed childhood bullying is a precursor to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
Understanding this connection is key for helping children struggling with these issues. The link is complex but when dissected, can be easier to understand. First, let’s start with analyzing eating disorders among teens.
Teen Anorexia Nervosa
Reports show as many as 10 in every 100 young women suffer from an eating disorder, one of which is called anorexia nervosa. But it is not limited to girls. Young males can become anorexic too.
Teens who struggle with anorexia have an extremely negative relationship with food. They fear food will cause them to gain weight and can become pre-occupied with how much or how little food they consume.
Teens often feel out of control. Managing what they eat gives them a sense of control, even though it eventually creates mental health problems and dangerous physical problems.
The teen with anorexia is often very competitive, but also struggles with low self-esteem. He or she believes they are fat no matter how little they weigh. They basically starve themselves and this can lead to damaging results.
Teens with bulimia exhibit different behaviors than those with anorexia. With bulimia, teens often binge eat on foods that are considered unhealthy. High calorie foods like cakes, chips and cookies are eaten in excess.
After consumption, teens will then do what they can to get rid of the food from their bodies. Some teens will make themselves throw up, others will use laxatives or over-exercise. All these elimination methods can be dangerous to the teen’s body.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder is often associated with younger children but can persist into the teenage years. This may even be a pre-curser to other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
With this disorder, a kid avoids eating due to a psychological or physical event that took place, making them scared to eat. A physical event may be when the child choked when they ate a hot dog. A psychological event may be when they were bullied while eating.
Teen Binge Eating
Binge eating occurs among teens and takes place when a teen overeats on high caloric foods. They eat a lot of food in a short amount of time. This is like bulimia only the teen does not purge or eliminate the food from their system after the binge.
Teen Victims of Bullies
Bullying among teens includes threats, insults, spreading rumors, being physical aggressive, excluding or neglecting someone, online bullying, or harassing them sexually or any other way.
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of five students report being bullied. They discovered bullying takes place online and in-person. Furthermore, 13 percent of teens being bullied were made fun of, called names or insulted in some way.
When questioned, teens reported one of the main reasons for being bullied included physical appearance. Examples of this include picking on teens for being overweight or underweight.
In fact, one study found that among high school students, 63 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys who are overweight reported some form of bullying related to their size.
This type of bullying can lead to the ones being bullied turning to unhealthy coping methods. Some may use drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, others experience low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Some teens fall in with the wrong crowd and some go to extremes to change their body to stop the bullying.
Connecting the Dots
Eating disorders are among the extreme ways teens try to cope with the bullying. They turn to one or more of the disorders discussed in this article: anorexia, bulimia, restrictive food intake or binge-eating.
One study found body-based bullying, or being teased by someone about their body, even by a family member, are 1.5 times more likely to try a dangerous form of weight management, like the ones discussed above.
The National Eating Disorders Association reported that 40 percent of higher weight teen girls are bullied by their peers and family members, and 37 percent of teen boys are bullied. They also report that by the ages between six and twelve, 40-60 percent of preteen girls are worried about their weight.
One review claims one of the main focuses of cyber-bullying among teens is body appearance. Teen bullies target other teens and send them horrible messages, calling them “fat” or “ugly”.
The report also states 30 percent of the teens studied reported being bullied because of their weight. This can lead to the bullied teens being dissatisfied with themselves and resorting to mental health issues and dangerous eating disorders in some.
Teens can get help, however. There are things you can do to help both the teen who is being bullied.
Breaking the Link Between Teen Eating Disorders and Bullying
Most teens who seek treatment for an eating disorder experience significant improvement. Some reports claim that 80 percent of those who seek help do recover.
Treatment works when it involves medicinal and nutritional therapies, counseling with a trained professional, and support groups with peers.
There are treatment facilities who specialize in eating disorders among teenagers and offer these exact benefits. They can also address any other mental health issues associated with a bullied teen. Often, symptoms of anxiety and depression can accompany the disorder.
Seeking treatment for your teen should happen when you first notice changes in your teen, like sudden weight changes, refusal to eat when hungry, going to the bathroom often or right after eating, and being obsessed with their weight.
If you notice any one of these symptoms, reach out for help.
Common Questions About Teen Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are psychological disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A teen with anorexia refuses to stay at a normal body weight. Someone with bulimia has repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compulsive behaviors such as vomiting or the use of laxatives to rid the body of food. Binge eating is characterized by uncontrolled overeating.
There is no one cause of an eating disorder. Experts link eating disorders to a combination of factors, such as family relationships, psychological problems, and genetics. The teen may have low self-esteem and be preoccupied with having a thin body.
Symptoms of eating disorders may include: distorted body image, skipping most meals, unusual eating habits, frequent weighing, extreme weight change, insomnia, constipation, skin rash or dry skin, dental cavities, erosion of tooth enamel, loss of hair or nail quality, hyperactivity and high interest in exercise, etc.
Although there is no easy treatment for eating disorders, they are treatable. A combination of treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressantmedication, can be used to help teens overcome bulimia. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps by identifying and replacing inaccurate thoughts to help change behavior and emotional state. Anorexia treatment usually involves nutritional feeding, medical monitoring, and psychological treatment.