Eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior. (Strada 2001) An eating disorder can be viewed as normal by the affected person. Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol to avoid or deal with their problems, a person with an eating disorder can use eating, purging or not eating food to deal with their problems. Some of the problems that are associated with an eating disorder include low self esteem, depression, feelings of loss of control, feelings of worthlessness, family communication problems and not being able to deal with emotions. (Bellenir 2000) An eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating may be an expression of something that the eating disordered individual has found no other way of expressing. Eating disorders are usually divided into three categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive overeating. There are similarities between many cases of eating disorders and addictive conditions such as alcoholism and drug addiction. The human brain has special reward centers and these are activated when a person feels well, takes care of the body, behaves sensibly, is praised, is in love, or exercises. Normal people get their stimulation of the reward center by doing good things, but it is also possible to stimulate these reward centers by artificial means like drugs, alcohol or eating. (Rebman 2006) One of the most stressful times in a person’s life is when they enter adolescence. This is a time when teenagers begin to discover who they are, teens are becoming more independent, they are establishing friendships, and their bodies start developing. For many teenagers, entering into puberty can be a very emotional, stressful, confusing, and frightening time. Some may have a more difficult time handling the pressures and some may develop eating disorders as a way to deal with their emotions. (Vollstadt 1999) Adolescents may enter into puberty early and be teased by their friends. Many teenagers are scared that the weight gained during this time is permanent, and try to take the weight off. Once teens start losing weight, people might start giving compliments, which would make them feel good. Teenagers may start to believe that losing weight will make them happier, but no matter how much weight is lost, it is never enough. (Willett 2007) Going through puberty early can be very upsetting and may cause teens to feel ashamed of their bodies, and they may try to make their bodies go back to a child like appearance through starvation. Some of the causes of eating disorders in teenagers are that children are being exposed to more commercials for junk food and extremely thin images and characters. They are being encouraged to eat high fat food and be thin, both at the same time. Magazines still use abnormally thin fashion models. When parents are fat, dieting all the time, using laxatives, or diet pills, it's hard for teens to avoid copying their parent’s bad habits. More parents are working and more kids eat and watch TV in their own rooms. These things lead to bad parental control over kids’ eating habits. They weaken relationships between parent and child and lead to stress, which is an important cause of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
In order to prevent an eating disorder in teenagers, parents should set a good example, not worry so much about the amount of calories their children consume each day, set a balanced diet, encourage them to drink water and keep them active. One of the worst eating disorders affecting America is anorexia nervosa; many adolescents are falling into the weight loss myth and are getting frustrated and obsessed with having a perfect body. Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents, 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight and 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight. (Vollstadt 1999) Anorexia nervosa is an irrational dread of...
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