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Digest This – Eating Disorders in Teens

Eating disorders are psychological problems involving a disturbance in eating behavior.  Teenagers of any gender are commonly affected, particularly those who were previously obese or overweight.  Unhealthy habits may be formed to lose weight such as skipping meals or using laxatives or diet pills.  When a large amount of body weight is lost too quickly, physical complications occur such as slow heart weight, low body temperature, low blood pressure, menstrual disturbances and body chemical imbalances.  Pay careful attention to your teenager for dieting behaviors such as severe caloric restriction or reduction in food variety.

To prevent weight-related problems, discourage dieting, skipping meals or use of weight loss pills or laxatives.  Avoid fad diets making unrealistic claims, and eliminating certain foods or food groups.  Promote sustainable healthy eating habits and physical activity behaviors.  Help your teen maintain a healthy body image.  Focus on healthy living instead of talking about weight.  Frequent family meals are protective against obesity and eating disorders.

If you are concerned about an eating disorder in your teenager, discuss this with your child’s doctor.  Your doctor may perform history, physical exam and lab tests.  Your teen may need a referral to a specialized eating disorder center for assessment and management.

Becky Biqi Chen was a resident in general pediatrics for three years at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. She is currently specializing in pediatric gastroenterology during her fellowship at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.


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