How to spot anorexia
Here's what to look out for.
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Signs that a teen has anorexia include:

  • Severe loss of weight (tend to drop 15% or more below normal weight)
  • Fear of being fat
  • Belief that he or she is fat even when underweight
  • Obsession with what he or she eats, constantly counting calories, weighing food or developing strict eating rituals
  • Eating hardly anything at all and saying he or she is never hungry
  • Excessive exercising
  • For teen boys, an obsession with looking athletic (teen boys with eating disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated)
  • Staying away from social activities, especially those involving food
  • Cutting out entire food groups e.g. carbohydrates
  • Irregular menstrual periods or none at all (amenorrhea)
  • Pale complexion
  • Discoloured skin and brittle nails
  • Hair falling out
  • Bruising easily
  • Frequent fainting spells
  • Induced vomiting or use of laxatives, diuretics and/or appetite suppressants
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss
  • Always cold
  • "Playing" with their food
  • Only eating at certain times in the day or in a certain way (for instance, only wanting to eat from a specific bowl with a specific spoon)
  • Often complains of being tired
  • Always on the scale checking their weight
  • Growth of lanugo (soft furry hair on face, back & arms)

The dangers  

Anorexia can do serious harm to a teen's body, 20% of the time ending in death. Some effects of anorexia are: malnutrition, susceptibility to injury, damage to the heart, liver and kidneys, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, anemia and poor concentration.

Who gets anorexia?

The teenager who is most vulnerable to developing anorexia is/has:

  • Perfectionistic, over-achieving, hard-working and compulsive
  • Black and white thinking (I eat nothing today or everything and then purge)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or mood swings
  • A need to be in control
  • Role models such as celebrities who are excessively thin
  • Involved in sports that stress ideal weights, such as gymnastics, ice-skating, ballet, track, and wrestling
  • Family members who are overly concerned with weight. Anorexia tends to occur in families with a history of addiction (alcoholism and eating disorders in the parent's history is common)

Anorexia cannot be blamed on anybody, but even a seemingly harmless comment about someone’s weight or physical appearance may trigger the disorder. Also, initial weight loss from dieting can get approval from family and friends, which makes the child feel good and reinforces dieting.

Michelle Minnaar has degrees in Psychology and Education and regularly conducts workshops for teens and parents on topics such as self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, drug abuse and learning problems.

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