An eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health problem and should be distinguished from patterns of disordered eating that occur commonly during the teenage years. Obesity may be considered to be a form of disordered eating, with adverse consequences for longterm health and wellbeing.
Controlling appearance and weight in teenage girls is the norm. Some girls control their weight by smoking, skipping meals and avoiding particular foods. Others may control their weight by an exercise routine. Girls are particularly vulnerable to social and peer group “norms” about appearance, and controlled eating, food restricting or low weight will likely self-limit in the coming years. If periods are delayed beyond 16 years and if you have concerns about anorexia nervosa do seek further help.
Teenagers with weight problems and obesity benefit from specialist help, both to listen and to provide guidance. Relationships with food and eating may be complex, and opportunities to discuss these with an experienced practitioner can be valuable. Being overweight throughout childhood and becoming obese during teenage years can have a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing. A sense of feeling out of control around food is common for example in bulimia nervosa with low self-esteem, guilt around eating and poor academic achievement.
Emotional overeating happens in response to feelings other than hunger including anger, rejection, stress or loneliness. Large quantities of food can be eaten, and these feelings may be alleviated in the short term. It is not uncommon in young people, who may lack the maturity to be able to manage these feelings and be overwhelmed by emotional decision making. This of course is part of the journey through adolescence into adulthood. However, should this persist into adulthood it may lead to excessive and more chronic weight gain co-existing with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and low-self esteem.
Eating disorders continue to increase in teenagers and can affect boys as well as girls. Being aware of the signs of persistent damaging eating behaviour will help you to seek help when needed. Doing this at an early stage is important, and prevents escalation of a problem which may spiral out of control.
Young people with eating disorders often have a sense of the need to keep control, to be perfectionist or to make things different. Controlling food and or weight is a powerful way of controlling environment, when other aspects of life are not making any sense.