Teen Health

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Teen Health

Teen Health

Overview

 

Puberty – How Your Body Changes
Your body is changing; your moods may be unpredictable and sometimes hard to explain. Don’t worry. These changes are normal. Our guide to teen health is designed to help you understand the common physical and emotional changes you are going through, and deal responsibly with new personal and social situations you may encounter. These changes are called puberty.

Puberty lasts for several years and marks the life stage when your body is changing from a child to an adult. Hormones help trigger and guide this process. Hormones are natural chemicals in your body that produce gradual physical changes during this time and may also cause emotional changes that can sometimes seem uncontrollable. These changes are common during puberty, and they happen to everyone. Although it may seem that these changes and feelings are out of your control, don’t worry—you’re still you, just the “growing up” version.

Common Physical Changes in Girls
Girls going through puberty often notice physical changes, such as larger breasts, hair growth in new places, acne and changes in the shape of your hips, waste, bottom and thighs. Below are some of the common physical changes you may experience.

Menstrual Periods & PMS
Menstruation is a turning point in your development from a child to a teenager. It’s important to remember that this is natural and something that makes being a woman special.
Learn more: Menstrual Periods & PMS

Larger Breasts
One of the first changes you will notice are your breasts growing, usually between the ages of eight and 12. Once your breasts start growing, you will most likely want to buy a bra.
Learn more: Selecting a Bra

Hair Growth
Hair will start to grow under your arms, on your legs and on your pubic area. Shaving your underarms and legs is a personal choice, but talk about it with one of your parents first.
Learn more: Shaving

Acne
This aggravating condition may be mild (blackheads and whiteheads), moderate (larger inflamed-looking blemishes) or severe (large cysts or nodules). Acne is caused by a build-up of oil, microorganisms and dead skin cells in the hair follicles under the skin.
Learn more: Acne

Common Social and Emotional Issues
Today’s young women face many emotional and social challenges during puberty. Below are some of the common tough issues you may find, and tips for handling them.

Self Esteem & Peer Pressure
The foundation for positive self-esteem is built at an early age and is influenced by relationships between you and your family. Your feelings about yourself will change as you grow.
Learn More: Self Esteem & Peer Pressure

Dating
Preparing to date stars with finding the right person, and making responsible choices in your relationship.
Learn More: Dating

Sex & Sexually Transmitted Diseases
When to engage or not engage in sexual relations is one of the most important decisions a person can make. From getting pregnant to becoming infected with an STD, make sure you understand the risks.
Learn More: Sex and STDs

Mental Health & Abuse
Overall health means more than simply being in shape and eating properly. Mental health, which includes your thoughts and feelings, is just as important as physical health.
Learn More: Mental Health

Eating Disorders
With a more prevalent preoccupation with appearance and weight in today’s society, girls may be at risk to develop eating disorders.
Learn More: Eating Disorders

Substance Abuse
During your teenage years, it is a good idea to take some risks, like trying new activities or sports. However, some risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, smoking and using drugs have negative effects.
Learn More: Substance Abuse

Visiting Your Doctor
Before the onset of puberty, discuss your questions and concerns with your health care professional. It is also a time for you to gather printed material on a variety of health issues, including your menstrual cycle, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

 

Facts to Know

 

  1. Puberty lasts for several years. It is the stage of your life when your body is changing from the body of a child to the body of an adult. Hormones, which are natural chemicals in your body, orchestrate these alterations in your body.
  2. During puberty, one breast might grow larger than the other. Once your breasts start growing, the differences will most likely be slight. And your breasts will even out before they are finished developing. Even if they don’t, no need to worry-many women’s breasts don’t match each other exactly.
  3. It might take a while, perhaps even a year, for your periods to become regular. During the first year, your cycle (from the start of one period to the start of the next) may be as short as three weeks or as long as six weeks. Even after your period becomes regular, exercise, stress or a change in diet could throw it off track. If you are sexually active and skip a period, talk to your health care professional immediately-you could be pregnant.
  4. An estimated 3.2 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur among teenage girls every year; this translates to one in four teenage girls.
  5. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for persons between 10 and 14 years of age and the third leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 years. Actions or talk of suicide are cries for help.
  6. Today, an increasing number of teenagers express dissatisfaction with their bodies Media portrayals of idealized body images that are unrealistic for most people are partially to blame for the increase in teenagers’ dissatisfaction with their bodies. And this idealized body image among young women-and increasingly for young men, as well-is leading to an increase in the number of teenagers with eating disorders. Eating disorders are not just a preoccupation with food, dieting and weight, however; they are serious mental disorders that can have serious consequences. Two common eating disorders are bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
  7. About 53 percent of all teenage school girls are not having sex, according to a 2002 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  8. You are most likely to get an STD during your teen and young adult years-more than two-thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than 25.
  9. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2007, 39 percent of eighth-graders, 62 percent of 10th-graders, and 72 percent of 12th-graders reported having tried alcohol. It is the drug most often used by 12- to 17-year-olds.
  10. The Harvard College Alcohol Study found a sharp rise (from 5.3 percent in 1993 to 11.9 percent in 2001) in frequent binge drinking was noted among women attending all-women’s colleges, and a lesser, but still significant, increase of the same behavior for women in coeducational schools.

 

Key Q&A

 

  1. How long will my period last?Young women usually start menstruating between the ages of nine and 16. A period lasts from three to seven days each month. Don’t count on your period being regular during the first year or so. Dieting can alter regularity, as can stress and the amount of exercise you get.
  2. When is a menstrual cycle considered abnormal?You should call your health care professional immediately if
    • you are sexually active and skip a period
    • you experience severe pain or excessive bleeding
    • your bleeding lasts more than ten days
    • you have bleeding or spotting between periods
    • you have not had a period for the last six months
  3. What is an STD?Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections most commonly spread through sexual intercourse or genital contact. According to the CDC, 3.2 million cases of STDs occur among teenage girls every year; this means one in four teenage girls has an STD. Unprotected sex and multiple sex partners place young people at risk for HIV infection, other STDs and pregnancy. If you are sexually active, a latex condom is your best protection against getting an STD. It is important to know how to use a condom properly.
  4. Do I have to have a Pap test?You should have a Pap test about three years after you become sexually active; if you’re not having sex, you should have a Pap test by age 21. A Pap test will be done in the health care professional’s exam room and only takes a minute or two. The health care professional will insert a speculum into your vagina and lightly swab your cervix. A lab technician will analyze the results, looking for anything abnormal. Abnormalities could be signs of cervical cancer or viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV).
  5. I have been dating the same boy for more than two months and he is asking me when we are going to have sex. When do I have to have sex with him?You never have to have sex with someone. There are no rules regarding when to have sex and when not to. This decision is a personal one and should not be forced by anyone.
  6. My boyfriend broke up with me three weeks ago and I just can’t get over it. What should I do?Ending relationships can be painful at any age. Learning how to work through your feelings during and after a break-up is important now and for relationships you will have in the future. If you can’t shake your blues by spending time with friends or concentrating on activities you enjoy, talk to your parents, a counselor or mental health professional. You may be having trouble adjusting. You may also be experiencing depression, especially if you answer yes to several of the following questions:
    • Do you cry more now than you used to?
    • Do you think your life is hopeless or meaningless?
    • Do you have a hard time sleeping, either sleeping too much or falling asleep at night?
    • Do you spend more time alone than you used to?
    • Do you ever think of hurting yourself?
    • Do you often feel worn out?
    • Have you gained or lost weight in the last month or two?
    • Have you noticed significant changes in your appetite?
    • Are you more irritable than usual?
  7. What do I do when I get my period?You’ll need to wear some form of protection to prevent staining your clothes. You can choose from an assortment of sanitary pads, panty liners and tampons. You can continue activities and sports that you enjoy. However, for activities involving water, you will have to wear a tampon instead of a pad.

 

Periods & PMS

 

Menstruation: An Important Milestone
The most significant change during puberty for many girls is their first period. Menstruation is a turning point in your development from a child to a teenager. Among other things, it means you are capable of becoming pregnant. Your first period can be unexpected. You might be surprised to find that you have some bleeding from your vagina. Many young women might feel frightened by the sight of this bleeding or embarrassed if it causes a stain on their underwear or clothing. It’s important to remember that this is natural and something that makes being a woman special. You can avoid embarrassing situations by talking to your mom or another adult (dads know about these things, too!) about being prepared for your period.

When Will You Get Your First Period?
Your first period is likely to occur between the ages of nine and 16. It usually lasts for three to seven days and then stops until the next period begins—usually about 21 to 28 days after your period started. This timeframe—from the first day you begin to bleed until the first day of your NEXT menstrual period—is called your “menstrual cycle.”

How Does the Menstrual Cycle Work?

During your menstrual cycle, one of your two ovaries releases one microscopic egg, called an ovum. (Your ovaries are reproductive organs approximately one and a half inches long and located in your lower abdomen, one on each side of your uterus; ovaries also release hormones that help to control your menstrual cycle.) The egg’s release from the ovary is called “ovulation,” and it usually happens in the middle of your cycle—around day 12 to 14 in a 28-day cycle. Ovulation can be irregular, though, when you first start having your period.

The egg then moves through one of the two fallopian tubes (the two tubes attached to the top of the uterus that lead to the ovaries). At the same time, body tissues and blood cells are beginning to line the walls of your uterus, forming a thin layer of material that will eventually be shed as your period. The amazing thing is, you won’t feel any of this happening.

If you were to have sexual intercourse at this time (around the time of ovulation), and sperm from a male partner would fertilize your egg on its way to the uterus, you would become pregnant. The egg would attach to the lining of the uterus and a fetus would grow inside of you. However, if sperm does not fertilize the egg, your body does not need this lining to support the fertilized egg. So, hormones trigger a different process, and this lining gently falls away from the walls of your uterus and is released from your body through your vagina. This is often called the menstrual flow or period.

Picking the Right Feminine Hygiene Product
To avoid staining your clothes, you will need to use sanitary pads, panty liners or tampons during your period. Sanitary pads and panty liners fit inside your underwear and are kept in place with an adhesive strip on the back of the pad. There are a variety of pads available with various thicknesses, lengths and absorbencies. Don’t worry—you will find one that fits your body and absorbs your menstrual flow well. Panty liners can be used at the beginning or end of your period when your flow is lighter.

Tampons are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s directions for putting a tampon into your vagina correctly. Both pads and tampons should be changed every four to eight hours, more often if needed. The number of days a period lasts and the amount of menstrual flow is different for every woman. On heavier flow days, it is not uncommon to soak more than six pads or tampons. But if you find yourself needing to change your pad or tampon more often than once every hour, you should talk to your parent, school nurse or health care professional.

It might take a while—perhaps a year or longer—for your periods to become regular. During the first year, you may have your period as often as once every two or three weeks or as infrequently as once every few months. Your periods may be heavy or light, and blood flow may change from month to month. Even after your period becomes regular, exercise, stress or a change in diet may throw it off track. Don’t feel discouraged—over time you will learn more about your body and your menstrual cycle and be better prepared to deal with your period. If you anticipate your period approaching, you may want to wear a panty liner for extra protection, just in case. After starting your period, if you go for three to six months without having a period, you need to discuss this with a parent, doctor or nurse.

How to Stay Prepared During Your Period
Here are some things you might want to consider keeping with you:

  • Two pads, liners and/or tampons, depending on your preference, in case your period begins unexpectedly.
  • A medication, such as ibuprofen, to relieve cramps and other period-related symptoms. It’s important to make sure that you don’t have any allergies to ibuprofen before taking it, and you should talk with your parent and/or health care professional about how much you can take for your menstrual discomfort. Check with your school about the rules for carrying medication; you may need to leave your medication with the school nurse.

How Your Period Makes You Feel
You may feel uncomfortable for the few days leading up to your period. Your uterus may contract, causing cramps around your pelvic area (below your belly button). You may also feel bloated or “puffy.” Breast tenderness and swelling, headaches, moodiness, back and leg aches, acne breakouts and nausea are also common symptoms for many young women before and during their periods. These symptoms usually stop or become less severe a day or two after your period starts. If any of these or other symptoms are too much for you to deal with, discuss them with a parent and/or your health care professional. Many symptoms can be relieved by lifestyle changes, such as altering eating habits or exercising or with medications.
If, however, you have any of the following symptoms or if there is a possibility that you may be pregnant, talk with a parent and/or call your health care professional immediately:

  • severe pain
  • heavy bleeding (for example, soaking a pad or tampon every hour)
  • bleeding that lasts more than eight days
  • bleeding between periods
  • skipping a period for six months or longer

Premenstrual Syndrome
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a group of symptoms you may experience seven to 10 days before your period begins. These symptoms go away when your period begins or shortly after. PMS can include emotional symptoms, such as crying or crankiness, and physical symptoms such as bloating, breast tenderness or headaches. If you have PMS, you’re not alone. While about 75 percent of girls and women who menstruate experience some type of menstrual-cycle discomfort, two to 10 percent of them experience symptoms severe enough to disrupt their normal activities—a condition known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

What are the Signs of PMS?

  • Bloating and weight gain. Do your jeans feel tighter as your period approaches?
  • Tension, anxiety or crying spells. Do you find yourself overreacting to stress or setbacks? Do you have a “short fuse” just before your period?
  • Depression. Do you feel sad for no reason? Feeling sad or blue for a day or two can be normal, but feeling down for a longer time may be one symptom of clinical depression, a serious, but common mental health condition experienced by many teens, as well as adults. Depression causes other symptoms, too, such as feeling tired or sleeping all of the time, or not being able to sleep at all; overeating or not eating enough; and feeling no joy in activities you used to enjoy. Usually, when a person is depressed, she may experience several symptoms. If you are experiencing any one or more of these symptoms, don’t wait or hesitate to speak with your parents and/or a health care professional.
  • Breast tenderness. Do your breasts hurt when touched? Does your bra feel uncomfortably tight?
  • Food cravings. Do you crave chocolate, potato chips or other foods (particularly salty or sweet foods)?
  • Joint or muscle pain. Do you wake up feeling achy even though you haven’t strained anything?
  • Nausea or vomiting. Does your stomach feel upset, even though you’re not eating anything unusual?
  • Headache. Do you have a pattern of headaches in the premenstrual period?
  • Trouble with concentration. Is it harder to study or pay attention in class?
  • Fatigue. Do you feel tired early in the day? Do you feel exhausted when you get home?

How Can You Avoid PMS?

Eat right
It may take a couple of months for some effects to kick in, but you’ll be surprised at the difference the following steps may make:

  • Eat more frequently, but make your portions smaller.
  • Consume 1,300 milligrams a day of calcium, whether through diet or a supplement. (Talk to a health care professional or your parents to make sure you don’t take too much.)
  • Consume 240 to 360 milligrams per day of magnesium, whether through diet or a supplement. (Talk to a health care professional or your parents to make sure you don’t take too much.)
  • Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Cut back on salt, salty foods and refined sugar, especially during the seven to 10 days before your period begins.
  • Cut out the caffeine, which can worsen irritability and breast tenderness.
  • Drink low-fat milk and eat low-fat yogurt, cheese and other calcium rich foods.

Many researchers find that the standard Food Pyramid originally designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) falls short of being realistic and healthy for many people for a variety of reasons. The USDA revised the Food Pyramid most recently in April 2005 and some modifications have been made. Be sure to talk to your health care professional about what dietary approach would work best for you and your lifestyle.

Exercise
You need to get aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes most days a week to boost your health and well-being. (Brisk walking, jogging, and bike riding are all forms of aerobic exercise.) Exercise can reduce feelings of fatigue, depression and moodiness.

Lower your stress levels
First, be sure to get adequate sleep. Most teens do not get the eight to nine hours or more of sleep they need to feel their best. You’ll be surprised by how many symptoms you can reduce when you get enough sleep. Second, no matter how busy you are with school, after-school activities or a job, be sure to take time to do something fun for yourself—see a movie, hang out with friends or read a book.
A third strategy many teens find helpful is relaxation. Muscle relaxation or deep-breathing exercises can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Try breathing deeply, using your lower abdomen, not your chest. Hold a deep lung full of air for five seconds, and then release it slowly. Repeat several times.
Yoga and meditation are popular (and effective) ways to relax and de-stress. There are several approaches to both of these disciplines. Check one out to see if it might work for you—consider going with a friend to a community center or gym that offers yoga and meditation and making it a regular practice.

Record your symptoms
Keep a notebook of your symptoms—what they are, when they occur and for how long, when they go away and any factors you think make them worse or better. What you learn from your record keeping, such as a pattern to your symptoms and things that relieve them, may help you manage your symptoms or will give your health care professional some clues about effective treatments.

Talk to your health care professional
If do-it-yourself strategies aren’t working, describe your symptoms to your health care professional or a school nurse or pharmacist. If symptoms are severe or interfere with your ability to do schoolwork or the activities you want to do, you need to take action. There are treatments that can make a dramatic difference in PMS symptoms: antidepressants, birth control pills or injections (these products minimize hormone fluctuations) and pain medications such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) or naproxen sodium (e.g., Aleve), which can reduce cramping and breast pain.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS that affects about two to 10 percent of girls and women who menstruate. In severe cases, PMDD can interfere with school activities and relationships.

Symptoms, which usually set in just before your period, include:

  • Severe mood swings, depression, irritability and anxiety. Do you experience uncontrollable crying spells, anger or depression so intense you can’t function? Emotional symptoms are the ones most likely to lead your health care professional to diagnose you with PMDD.
  • Sleep disturbance. Do you experience insomnia (inability to sleep) or need excessive sleep just before your period?
  • Difficulty concentrating. Is it impossible or nearly impossible for you to study or pay attention in class?
  • Breast tenderness and bloating. Do your clothes feel too tight? Do your breasts ache?

If you think you may have PMDD, try lifestyle modifications recommended for PMS and talk to a health care professional. Many of the emotional symptoms appear to be associated with low levels of a brain chemical called serotonin. Medication can increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, thereby minimizing PMDD.

Acne

MYTH: Chocolate and oily foods cause acne.
FACT: There is no evidence that these foods cause acne. But you should avoid overindulging in chocolate and oily foods because they are typically high in calories and saturated fats and don’t provide much nutrition.

MYTH: Repeated face washing will get rid of acne.
FACT: If you have oily skin or acne, you should wash your face no more than twice a day. Over-washing can dry out the skin, prompting the oil glands to work harder.

What you can do about acne:

  • Wash your face in the morning and at night, and after you work out. You may want to try a cosmetic face mask (usually a combination of moisturizers and other products that help remove dead and dry skin) once a week or a daily benzoyl peroxide product. Benzoyl peroxide comes in strengths ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. You should start out with a low strength once a day and use a stronger product if needed.
  • Keep your hair off your face and don’t squeeze or pick at your pimples. Wash your hands before touching your face.
  • Experiment with makeup products; ask a parent, friend or sales clerk for help choosing the right product and guidance in putting it on. Some makeup products are oil free and may be a better choice if you have acne. While makeup usually can’t make a pimple invisible, it can minimize the blemish and give your skin a smoother overall tone.
  • Breakouts are loosely associated with stress, so take note of what’s going on when your skin erupts. You may find your acne is associated with your period, a challenging test at school or other stress. If you see such a pattern, you may be able to lessen the problem through stress reduction techniques, such as yoga, breathing exercises or just doing something fun.
  • Talk to your health care professional or dermatologist if your acne seems worse than average or if it’s especially bothersome to you. A variety of prescription treatments are available to combat acne.

 

 

Mental Health & Abuse

 

Mental Health
Overall health means more than simply being in shape and eating properly. Mental health, which includes your thoughts and feelings, is just as important as physical health. During your teenage years, various things may make you sad or get you down—for example, if someone makes fun of your clothes or if you don’t do well on a test for which you thought you were prepared. But if you are constantly feeling down or upset about something, you could be depressed. Depression is a mental illness, but it is treatable once it is accurately diagnosed. Many teenagers experience depression.

Depression & Suicidal Feelings
Depression, if untreated, may cause you to feel like hurting or killing yourself. Suicidal feelings are a very real problem that should be taken seriously. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adolescents between 10 and 14 years of age and the third leading cause of death for those 15 to 24 years old. A 2007 CDC Youth Behavior Risk survey showed 18.7 percent of girls and 10.3 percent of boys had thought about committing suicide and nearly seven percent had tried. If you are thinking about suicide, talk to someone—there are lots of ways to help teens feel better when they are depressed and/or suicidal.

How Do You Know if You May Be Depressed?
If you answered “yes” to several of the following questions, talk to someone about getting help. This person could be a teacher, a coach, your parent, an older sibling or someone else you trust, but talk with someone. Take a few minutes to make a list of people you can call.

  • Do you cry more now than you used to?
  • Do you think your life is hopeless or meaningless?
  • Do you have a hard time sleeping? Are you either sleeping too much or having difficulty falling asleep at night?
  • Do you spend more time alone than you used to?
  • Do you ever think of hurting yourself?
  • Do you often feel worn out?
  • Have you felt unusually irritable lately?
  • Have you gained or lost weight in the last month or two?
  • How is your appetite? Are you overeating or undereating?

Tendencies of Suicidal Thoughts
The following is a list of behaviors that a person who is suicidal might show.

  • Has the person become withdrawn from friends and/or family or undergone a dramatic personality change?
  • Does the person have trouble concentrating, or does the person always seem bored?
  • Does the person often act rebellious?
  • Is the person having a hard time coping with a major life event, such as divorce of parents, death of a sibling or being pregnant?
  • Is the person abusing drugs or alcohol or both?
  • Is the person giving away prized personal possessions?
  • Does the person write poems or notes about death?
  • Does the person talk or even joke about suicide?

If this person is you, your friend or family member, reach out for help and do not keep quiet. Suicide is preventable, but you must act quickly. If you are an adolescent yourself, it is important to involve an adult first. Consider these steps:
Get help from a professional immediately. Don’t wait or hesitate. Call this suicide crisis hotline number (toll-free nationwide): 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for guidance or 911 to speak with your local emergency services.

  • Ask the person directly if she is thinking of committing suicide. Sometimes just saying the word helps the person feel understood and feel like her or his cries for help have been heard. Actions or talk of suicide are cries for help. Most teenagers are looking for acceptance, understanding, attention and love.
  • Reassure the person that you care about him or her and want to help. Never agree to keep his or her thoughts about suicide a secret. If another person shares with you that he or she wants to die or kill him or herself, tell an adult.
  • Get rid of or lock up all guns, pills and medications, sharp tools including saws, knives, razors and scissors, and ropes and belts.

Abuse
When the word “abuse” is used in conjunction with teenagers, drug or alcohol abuse is often what comes to mind. But there are several kinds of abuse, many of which do not involve a decision made by the adolescent. There is also physical, sexual, verbal and psychological or emotional abuse.

  • Physical abuse is hitting, slapping, beating, cutting, burning or some other type of physically harmful assault.
  • Sexual abuse is unwanted or coercive sexual contact; it also can involve someone being forced to watch sex acts or to look at or take part in pornography.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse is regular or persistent threats, screaming, humiliation or emotional mistreatment. Bullying is a form of psychological abuse.
  • Neglect such as a parent not providing adequate food, clothing and shelter, or exposing a child to environments where unsafe behaviors occur, is also abusive.

Anyone—rich or poor—can be a victim of abuse. And the abuse can come from many sources—a parent, an older sibling, a teacher, a coach or school administrator, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a neighbor, a peer, a boss or anyone.

 

Eating Disorders

 

These days, many teenage girls express dissatisfaction with their bodies. According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc., one in 100 teenage girls between the ages of 10 and 20 have anorexia. And according to the CDC’s 2007 Youth Risk Behavior survey, more than 53 percent of female students surveyed had eaten less food to lose weight in the past 30 days, 7.5 percent of girls reported taking diet pills and 6.4 percent reported vomiting or taking laxatives to lose weight. And the obsession with weight starts early—the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, and 82 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat. Many teenage girls strive to look like fashion models, but the NEDA reports that most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of the population.

This preoccupation with appearance and weight can become extreme and develop into an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness during which a person takes drastic measures to control his or her weight. Although the popular press paints eating disorders as affecting only girls, they can also affect boys, with the same devastating consequences.

Bulimia
Bulimia is a disorder in which a person eats larger amount of food than he or she normally would in an uncontrolled manner, and then does something such as force him or herself to vomit, use laxatives, or exercise excessively, to prevent weight gain. This is often referred to as “bingeing and purging.” A person with bulimia is typically of average weight or overweight. This illness can be very dangerous, especially if the teen forces vomiting regularly—this can disrupt normal blood chemistry and can cause problems with vital organs such as the heart.

Anorexia nervosa
A young person with anorexia nervosa has a distorted body image and sees him or herself differently than the rest of the world does (often at a much larger size than he or she really is) and has an intense fear of gaining weight. This person usually diets severely and loses a large amount of weight. The person often denies that there is a problem or that she or he is too thin. Females with anorexia who lose a significant amount of weight often stop menstruating.
Other eating disorders include binge eating disorder (bingeing without purging), which is strongly linked to obesity. Additionally, obesity is affecting young people at alarmingly increasing rates and, along with smoking, is a leading contributor to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes among adults.

How to Tell If You or a Friend Has an Eating Disorder
Teenage girls and college-age women—and increasingly teenage boys and young men—are especially prone to developing eating disorders, mental illnesses characterized by a dangerous obsession with losing weight or staying thin. Teens with eating disorders may starve themselves (anorexia nervosa), or they may binge on food and then throw up or exercise excessively or take laxatives to purge themselves of the food (bulimia). How can you tell if a diet has progressed to something dangerous?

Anorexia nervosa
Teens with anorexia nervosa starve themselves because they have a distorted body image and believe that they are overweight even when they aren’t. They have an irrational fear of becoming fat and are obsessed with food and weight control.

These behaviors and emotional symptoms suggest anorexia nervosa:

  • Loss of a significant amount of weight
  • Continuing to diet and “feeling fat” even after reaching a goal weight, or becoming visibly thin
  • Irrational fear of gaining weight
  • Obsession with food, calories, fat content and nutrition
  • Weighing oneself once a day or more
  • Refusal to discuss a diet with others
  • Cooking for others but not eating
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Lying about eating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Eating large amounts of food and getting rid of it by throwing up, fasting, taking laxatives or exercising excessively. This is called bingeing and purging.

Physical symptoms:

  • Hair loss
  • Loss of monthly menstrual period
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Constipation
  • Growth of body hair on arms, legs and other body parts
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Dry skin and brittle nails

Bulimia nervosa
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating—the frequent consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time. A person with bulimia often feels ashamed and/or guilty after binging and as a result “purges” by making himself or herself vomit, using laxatives or other medication to control weight, exercising excessively or fasting. A person with bulimia usually has a normal or a somewhat above normal weight.Behaviors and emotional symptoms:

  • Binge eating, or eating uncontrollably and/or secretively
  • Purging by dieting, fasting, exercise, vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics
  • Using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • Obsession with weight
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of being out of control

Other symptoms

  • Swollen glands in the neck and face
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Irregular periods
  • Dental problems
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting blood
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Bloodshot eyes

Binge eating
People with binge eating disorders also compulsively overeat. However, they do not regularly purge and are often overweight. Some people may overeat throughout the day rather than binging sporadically.
Behaviors and symptoms:

  • Binge eating episodes
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Frequent dieting
  • Uncontrollable eating
  • Awareness that eating patterns aren’t normal
  • Feelings of shame, depression or antisocial behavior
  • Obesity
  • Weight fluctuations

 

 

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