What Are the Signs Of Bulimia In Teenagers?
Although signs of bulimia and other eating disorders often develop during adolescence, they can be hard to detect because young people are also going through various physical and emotional changes associated with puberty. Teenagers may modify their eating habits due to changes in growth and energy needs, participation in sports and requirements to “get into shape or “make weight,” as well as social pressures to experiment with dieting. But signs of bulimia and other eating disorders may become more evident in teenagers who become exceedingly fixated on body image, to the point of obsession (body dysmorphia or BD), and unhealthy behaviors emerge as methods for dealing with BD.
What Is Bulimia?
Bulimia (bulimia nervosa) is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled binge eating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting, exercising, use of laxatives, enemas, diuretics or fasting. While bulimia is generally considered a female concern, the incidence of bulimia in males has increased 75% over the last 25 years. The prevalence of bulimia is also increasing among both male and female athletes. About 28% of female athletes and 33% of their male counterparts are at risk for an eating disorder based on distortions in perceived ideal body image around both fat and muscle. And while bulimia might affect females more than males overall, males are less likely to be identified as suffering from, or seek treatment for, bulimia. Males are more likely to hide their eating and food behaviors because of stigma around the association with a “female issue.”
Signs and Symptoms
It is important to note that teenagers suffering from bulimia fixate on body image and shape, not just weight, and may be at normal body weight or slightly overweight. Signs of bulimia generally begin to become apparent in adolescence and youth and include:
- Participation in unhealthy weight management behaviors
- Obsessive focus on food, body image, or exercise (particularly in males)
- Use of laxatives or vomiting after eating
- Hiding or hoarding food
- Eating in secret
Also, teenage boys are more likely to place excessive emphasis on working out, bulking up, steroid use, or other types of “supplementation” and food rituals, rather than traditional dieting.
In addition to behavioral indicators, teenagers exhibiting signs of bulimia often display emotional difficulties, such as depression and anxiety, and may also engage in forms of social isolation.
If you think your teenager may be suffering from bulimia, seek assistance from a medical or mental health professional. Bulimia will not go away on its own. It is a serious chronic condition and your child will not “grow out of it.” Even with treatment, the psychological effects of bulimia may persist into adulthood and require continual monitoring and management. However, with early intervention, prognosis dramatically improves.