Bulimia in the Adolescent Population

Young girl not eatinng

Contributor: By Julie Raymond, MA, LPC , Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls

High school can be such an extraordinarily difficult time for adolescents, particularly females. The incredible pressure placed on teens can lead to an eating disorder. We know today 50% of all girls are engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors. Although anorexia, the restricting of food, is more common in young people, bulimia is often in the mix.

It’s important to understand how bulimia manifests. Most people believe vomiting is the exclusive method of purging. But the purge aspect of the disease can also be accomplished through extreme over-exercising, prolonged restricting or laxative abuse.

The Go-To Purge for Adolescents: Exercise

In very young girls, vomiting is rarely seen due to two factors—either it simply doesn’t occur to them as a weight-loss strategy, or they find the behavior too odious or physically painful to embrace. By high school, it becomes more common.

Laxative abuse is infrequent, primarily due to unavailability or the cost involved. Extreme athleticism is often an adolescents “go-to” purging behavior. Unfortunately, with rampant fear of obesity lurking everywhere, this behavior is usually lauded, particularly by parents.

Why do teenage girls engage in bulimic behaviors? Because we live in a culture that’s obsessed with the thin ideal. And, unlike previous generations, teens today have access to so much information due to the Internet.

The Role of Social Media

Happy young woman lying on grass and listening to music.If asked why she engages in purging behaviors, nearly every teen will say it’s because she doesn’t want to be fat. The truth is, the word fat is code for any number of things. She doesn’t want to be rejected, unloved, hurt, anxious or depressed. She wants to be accepted, loved and happy.

Social media, not surprisingly, is involved in this scenario. The thin necessity is reinforced by the millions of selfies posted every day. To achieve the desired weight-loss, adolescents go right back to the Internet to learn the tricks of the trade. Pro-mia and pro-ana websites are rife with “how to’s” regarding weight loss.

Getting Help for Bulimic Behaviors

Although there are many “whys” involved with bulimic behaviors, there is only one good response: get help. The earlier treatment is sought, the better the chance for full recovery. Unlike adults, a teen cannot have been involved with the disorder for very long simply because they haven’t lived that long. This means the behaviors are not yet hard-wired.

Adolescent girls are not an easy population to work with. Most have a superwoman, “it will never happen to me” mindset. Since they have not practiced the behaviors for long, they have not yet seen the physical consequences that can result such as esophageal tears. Often, they have no desire to rid themselves of this disorder.

However, if in treatment they can learn to distinguish the eating disorder voice from their own internal voice, establish what their personal values are and see how antithetical the disorder is to these values, understand the function the disorder serves in their lives, and replace it with healthy skills, then there is hope for the future.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one experienced Bulimia as an adolescent? What thoughts do you have on how we as an eating disorder community can better reach our adolescent population and encourage awareness and recovery?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 10th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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