Eating disorders are widely recognized, as being highly complex and often difficult to treat, forms of mental health conditions. Although, these disorders are recognized to affect those from childhood, right through to older adults, it is female adolescents, which are deemed to be most at risk. This is particularly true for those suffering from anorexia nervosa.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Adolescents
It is absolutely vital, that parents, teachers, youth workers, coaches and any other professionals, who regularly come into contact with adolescents, are aware of the warning signs, associated with these serious disorders.
Warning signs related to anorexia, commonly include the following: preoccupation with food, weight, calories, eating rituals, dramatic weight loss (not caused by other illness), difficulty concentrating, social isolation, withdrawal, secretiveness, avoiding meals and wearing baggy clothes.
While warning signs associated with bulimia, may include many of the above, in addition to frequent trips to the bathroom, binge eating evidence, swollen cheeks, excessive exercise, mood swings, dental problems and scars on knuckles (both of these are due to self-induced vomiting).
Society for Adolescent Medicine Eating Disorder Guidelines
The Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM), has recommended several guidelines in relation to eating disorder treatment for adolescents, published in 2003. As eating disorders are identified as best treated early on, adolescents should receive treatment at lower symptom levels than adults and diagnosis must take into account issues of normal growth and development.
It is crucial, that nutritional support takes into account, the sufferer’s pubertal stage, age and daily level of physical activity. Those treating adolescents should, ideally, be experienced in this age-group and the importance of family-based treatment must be stressed.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence Eating Disorder Guidelines
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) published its recommendations for eating disorder treatment and management in 2004. NICE recommends that, in the case of children or adolescent sufferers, family members, including siblings, should be involved in treatment. This age group also requires careful monitoring, in terms of growth and development and sufferers also have a recognised right to confidentiality.
The report also recommends that health professionals involved in the assessment and treatment of younger eating disorder patients, be alert to signs which may indicate abuse.
Questions For Eating Disorder Treatment Providers
For parents, it is a good idea to have a list of pre-prepared questions to ask potential treatment providers regarding a child’s eating disorder care. Key suggestions include the following: asking about specific diagnosis, any other associated conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety), whether medication is required, types of therapy provided, frequency of appointments and whether the individual is experienced with the specific age group.
As highlighted above, there are many recommendations associated with eating disorder treatment for both children and adolescents. It is most important, though, that those who regularly come into contact with the child at school or otherwise, in addition to parents, are aware of the warning signs, in order for treatment to be most effective.