At Sundance Canyon Academy, we work with many teen boys who struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders can look slightly different for boys than girls, but the side effects are the same. We are writing on this topic to help parents learn to identify the signs of an eating disorder and understand the possible side effects.
In today’s culture, dieting and worrying about food have become the norm. As fad diets have become popular among adults, the trend has trickled down to teens and tweens. With constant access to social media sites and celebrity gossip, today’s kids start noticing their diet from a young age.
As they grow up, teens can start to focus too much on their diet and appearance. Teens are already known for being self-conscious. They want to look good, and they want to gain the respect of their peers. With so much emphasis on eating “good” food and being healthy, teenagers can associate their food choices with their overall self-worth.
When teens and tweens link their diet and physical appearance to their self-worth, they risk developing an eating disorder. An eating disorder is an obsession with food or diet that gets in the way of day-to-day life. Teens with eating disorders worry about their food or bodily results to an unhealthy degree.
What is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa is a relatively new eating disorder that focuses on eating “clean.” Teens with orthorexia nervosa obsess about overeating food that they consider to be clean, healthy, or environmentally friendly.
Teens need to learn how to eat a healthy diet. They need to eat more nutritious food than junk food, and they need to understand the health implications of what they eat. For some teens, this desire to eat well can cross the line from healthy eating to an eating disorder. When their desire to eat healthy food becomes detrimental to their physical or mental wellbeing, there’s a problem.
Why do teens develop Orthorexia Nervosa?
Like any eating disorder, there are numerous reasons for a teen to develop orthorexia nervosa. The food industry, diet culture, and common eating practices that pervade today’s culture can set kids up for a difficult relationship with food.
From the time they’re little, children learn that some foods are “good” and other foods are “bad.” Unfortunately, most “bad” food is loaded with flavor, sugar, and high-fat content that people naturally want. We’re drawn to food that would help keep us alive if we were starving, but it can cause serious health problems if we overeat. So, kids are told that the food is bad and should be avoided.
Likewise, the massive food production system in today’s culture creates a lot of waste and leads to some moral ambiguity. Kids wonder if it’s morally okay to eat meat or exploit animals in any way. They worry about modified foods or food treated with chemicals. They worry about production standards and whether or not their food might contribute to global problems. Today’s kids have a lot to consider when it comes to food.
Some common reasons that teens develop orthorexia nervosa include:
Wanting to lose weight or be healthier
Hoping to avoid illness or lessen the effects of current symptoms
Worrying about chemicals or “unnatural” substances in food
Worrying about the possible moral compromise that went into making the food
Worrying about the moral implication of eating the food
Hoping to improve their mental health
What are the side effects of eating disorders?
Plenty of people incorporate “clean eating” into their lives with no negative side effects. They adjust their diet and their spending habits, and they continue with life as usual. Teens who suffer from an eating disorder cannot simply continue with life as usual. Their relationship with food becomes an obsession and interferes with their daily life.
The side effects of an eating disorder include:
Designing your daily plans around your food
Hiding your eating habits from friends and family
Feeling ashamed if anyone finds out about your eating habits
Feeling anxiety about going out to eat or eating around other people
Feeling anxiety if someone else prepares your meal
Refusing to eat food prepared by anyone else
Obsessing over the possible physical or mental outcomes of your diet
Pushing other people away as a result of obsessive behavior
Developing health problems from malnutrition
Avoiding social events that would interfere with your diet or your beliefs about food
Feeling morally superior to other people who don’t share the same diet as you
Spending excessive amounts of money on things related to your diet
Helping teens with eating disorders
If you are worried that your son has an eating disorder, reach out for help. Teens with eating disorders need to change how they think about and relate to food. This is not an easy task. Many teens see progress in overcoming their eating disorder when participating in regular therapy sessions.
If your son isn’t making progress at home, he may benefit from attending a residential treatment center for teen boys. While in the program, students live in a supportive environment and receive therapeutic intervention to address their issues with food. The combination of structured living and regular therapy sessions helps students develop a positive relationship with food.
Call us at 866-224-2733 for more information about our program for teens with eating disorders.