Eating Disorder in American Adolescent Girls

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Eating Disorder in American Adolescent Girls

Eating disorders are a common problem that affects many young women and girls in the United States. The most common eating disorders are anorexia and Bulimia. These two are usually brought about by self-esteem issues. For example, a girl or woman may view herself as being excessively overweight. As a way to cut down the weight she imagines that she has, she may resort to an eating disorder like anorexia. Here, she intentionally starves herself in order to make sure that she does not gain weight. In Bulimia, the girl, or person in question will start forcing herself or himself to vomit soon after eating. The aim is the same as for anorexia, to avoid gaining weight. The issues are usually mainly psychological, as there may not be any evidence of being fat or overweight. Another common eating disorder is binge eating disorder. In this disorder, the person loses control over his or her eating. These people do not usually have to exercise or vomit afterwards. As a result, most of them are usually very overweight or obese. These three disorders will be discussed with special focus on American adolescent girls.


Anorexia is the most fatal of all eating disorders. About 4% of the individuals who suffer from anorexia die due to complications related to the disease. In the United States, it is estimated that about 1-4% of women have suffered from an eating disorder at one point in their lives. Out of these, only a third managed to seek out treatment and get genuine help from professionals (Smink, Van Hoeken & Hoek, 2012). This shows that there is still some stigma for the people that have anorexia. It could also mean that people with anorexia do not have an easy time realizing that they have an eating disorder.

The statistics for Bulimia indicate that up to 4% of the women in the United States will have it at some point in their lifetimes. Usually, about 3.9% of these individuals die due to complications related to Bulimia. From the 4% who have had the eating disorder in their lifetime, only 6% manage to seek professional treatment (Smink, Van Hoeken & Hoek, 2012). As with anorexia, there is still trouble with the people identifying that they have an eating disorder until it is too late.

Binge eating statistics show that up to 2.8% of females will have this disorder in their lifetime. It is difficult to establish the exact mortality rate for binge eating as the results are usually alongside other weight problems that may not necessarily be related to binge eating. However, there are many deaths, especially in the United States that are a result of being obese or overweight. For binge eating, the number of individuals who seek treatment is significantly higher than for the three other eating disorders. About 43% of all people who have the disorder will seek treatment and follow through with it (Smink, Van Hoeken & Hoek, 2012). Perhaps due to the emphasis of the media and peers, people tend to realize when they have an eating problem that is binge eating and will therefore seek help.

The statistics for the prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents and school going people are as follows. From the total population, about 2.7% of the people who are adolescents between the ages of 13-18 have an eating disorder. 50% of students who are female have unhealthy ways of trying to control their weight. These include extreme starvation, skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, laxatives, fasting and smoking. About 25% of college students engage in binge eating and purging as a form of weight control method (Smink, Van Hoeken & Hoek, 2012). Despite their unhealthy nature, these methods are common. The media plays a huge role in encouraging people, especially young females to look a certain way.

These statistics show that while the eating disorders can affect anyone in the population, they are more common among females than they are among males. Females tend to have more body image issues than men. As a result, they seek out methods that will help them become the perfect weight and body type. These methods may be unhealthy and harmful, and could be the start of an eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the National Institute of mental health, people with anorexia tend to see themselves as overweight. As a result, they weigh themselves more often than necessary. Another sign is the complete avoidance of certain foods. They may avoid some foods entirely, and even when they eat, they will eat them in very small quantities. Another sig is the intense fear of gaining weight. Their self-esteem is usually limited to their perception of the importance of a low body weight. Over times, some other signs may develop due to the lack of proper nourishment. One of the signs is the thinning of bones. They may also develop mild anemia and weak muscles that are often times wasting Other signs in the end include low blood pressure and other health issues (Thomson, Marriott, Telford, Law, McLaughlin & Sayal, 2014). 

Bulimia has some of the characteristics that have been listed above. One of them is the extremely unhealthy obsession with body weight hence the need to constantly check their weight. Other signs include a sore throat. At times, the throat may be chronically inflamed. Another sign is visible swellings in the salivary gland areas. The teeth may also become sensitive, and the enamel worn out. This is usually because of exposure to stomach acid. There is usually the development of gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux disorder. Most of the people with bulimia tend to abuse laxatives hence may have intestinal distress or irritation. Due to forced puking, the person may have an imbalance of the electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and other minerals. This may lead to stroke or heart attack. Other signs of bulimia may be seen on the skin. These include fingers that are callused due to their use to induce self-vomiting (Strumia & Feletti, 2013). Most of these signs may be clear to others before they are even clear to the patient in question

Some of the signs of binge eating disorder include eating unusually large amounts of food in a very short specific period. Another sign is usually eating even when one is full and not hungry. A person with this disorder may eat alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment. Usually, they feel guilty and distressed or ashamed because of this eating habit. Another sign is eating very fast during these binge moments. Due to the embarrassment and shame, they may start some dieting from time to time (McElroy & Guerdjikova, 2015). This kind of dieting does not usually last and is usually mostly without any significant reduction in weight.

Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors that are typically associated with bulimia, anorexia and binge eating include being a teenage girl. At adolescence, girls usually start to have self-image issues. These may be brought about by the media, which tries to portray perfect females as being only a certain weight. It may also be brought about by family members who may call the girl in question too slim or too fat, making her have self-image issues. The result is any of the above eating disorders.

Another risk factor is the age. Eating disorders can occur at any age. However, they are usually very common in the teenage and early 20s. Sometimes, they may even occur during childhood. In addition to age, family history is also a risk factor. Eating disorders are linked to genetics and family culture (Hilbert, Pike, Goldschmidt, Wilfley, Fairburn, Dohm, & Walsh, 2014). A person who has family members with a history of eating disorders is more likely to have eating disorders than one who has grown up in a place with no history of eating disorders. 

On the issue of family, sometimes, certain transitions in the family life of a family may lead to an eating disorder. Most families have a life cycle that involves. Some of these transitions include starting of school. For some people, moving from primary school to high school could mark the beginning of an eating disorder. This is linked to family life in the sense that the parents may be encouraging the young girl to become a certain weight in order to be able to land into certain extra curricula activities such as cheer leading and dancing. If the parents of a teenager are abusive, the result may also be an eating disorder. The disorder may come as a search for comfort with one’s body. It may also come due to the shaming that comes with the abuse (Hilbert, Pike, Goldschmidt, Wilfley, Fairburn, Dohm, & Walsh, 2014). The point is, often, family issues lead to eating disorders especially among young teenagers.

Another risk factor is mental health disorders. People with either anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder are more likely to develop an eating disorder. The mental health issues usually alter their perception of reality (Hilbert, Pike, Goldschmidt, Wilfley, Fairburn, Dohm, & Walsh, 2014). They may end up thinking that they are either too fat or too thin because of their mental health issues. They may also be obsessed with certain body parts and may want these parts to look a certain way.

Stress is another risk factor. People tend to go into binge eating when they are stressed. The stress may be due to everyday activities such as school or normal family life. Stress is likely to occur (Hilbert, Pike, Goldschmidt, Wilfley, Fairburn, Dohm, & Walsh, 2014). Other stressing factors include relationship issues such as breakups, death or illness of a close family member or friend, being fired from a job, missing the course or college that one wanted. Being rejected in a contest, such as a beauty pageant that requires people to be a certain weight and height may also result in an eating disorder.

Another risk factor is dieting. Typically, weight loss often makes people congratulate a person for the positive change in appearance. This may make some people to take the dieting too far and hence it becomes an eating disorder. Other risk factors are, work and art. People in these careers or with these passions may have coaches that may encourage them to lose weight in order to be fit for the job they are in. The encouragement may turn into an eating disorder as the person tries to meet the expectations of the coach (Bratland-Sanda & Sundgot-Borgen, 2013). According to the two authors cited, female athletes are more likely than male athletes to have eating disorders.

Treatments and Therapies

The goal of treatment in all these cases is usually to make sure that there is adequate nutrition, no excessive exercises and to stop the purging behaviors. Most of the treatment plans are usually centered on the individual. This is because, as has been said earlier, people develop eating disorders for their own reasons.

One of the main treatment procedures is psychotherapies; these are usually aimed at both the parents of the adolescent and the adolescent. One of the therapies focuses on making sure that the parents of the affected person take responsibility for feeding them. This means making sure that the person has eating nutritionally sustainable foods. There is also cognitive behavior therapy. This therapy aims at making sure that a person drops all harmful thinking patterns (Turner, Marshall, Wood, Stopa & Waller, 2016). This one is especially useful for binge eating. After it, the person will be able to know when to stop eating and what to eat every time so they do not resort to binge eating. These therapies may require a few trips to the therapists and usually, after this visit, there are minimum chances of the adolescent returning to unhealthy eating habits.

Another treatment that is usually given to people who have developed an eating disorder is medication. As stated earlier, the presence of other mental health disorder is a risk factor associated with eating disorders. Administering antidepressants to deal with depression for example, would be one step in the treatment of the eating disorder.  Another example is the administration of mood enhancing drugs to people with either anxiety or depression, or both who would also have an eating disorder. For bulimia, some of the damage that has been done in the body may need to medicated. For example, the electrolyte imbalance or the destruction of the teeth enamel. However, this should be done alongside therapy to make sure that the eating disorder does not return and that a person continues to be healthy. Medication may also be necessary for binge eating especially if the person has started to show signs of illnesses that are typically associated with being overweight.

Another intervention that could work for eating disorders is the use of mindfulness-based intervention. Mindfulness could help in binge eating for example. Usually, binge eating may be accompanied by cravings for certain foods even when the body does not necessarily need them. Mindful behavior helps in the curbing of these behaviors and is good for general mental and physical health. It also works for bulimia and anorexia especially if they are accompanied by mental illnesses. The teenage girl learns to focus her attention on more than just her weight and following a mindful approach. Mindful approaches help one to deal with body dissatisfaction and make sure that a person deals with her food cravings (Baer, 2015). If accompanied with therapy and medication, they may get rid of eating disorders completely.

To conclude, eating disorders have been understood as they occur among adolescent girls in the United States of America. From the above, anorexia, bulimia and binge eating have been shown to occur more among females than among males. Their link to other issues such as mental health or broken families has also been discussed. Their causes and risk factors have been explained. In addition, it is clear that most of the people who develop an eating disorder do not seek treatment. The reasons for this have been explained above. Some of the treatments and remedies available have been explored. From these, it is clear that cognitive behavior therapy is one of the most useful tools in combating and making sure that the eating disorders do not recur. Mindfulness is also an effective strategy and can be applied in other areas of life as well.


Baer, R. A. (Ed.). (2015). Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications. Academic Press.

Bratland-Sanda, S., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2013). Eating disorders in athletes: overview of prevalence, risk factors and recommendations for prevention and treatment. European journal of sport science, 13(5), 499-508.

Hilbert, A., Pike, K. M., Goldschmidt, A. B., Wilfley, D. E., Fairburn, C. G., Dohm, F. A., & Walsh, B. T. (2014). Risk factors across the eating disorders. Psychiatry research, 220(1), 500-506.

McElroy, S. L., & Guerdjikova, A. I. (2015). Understanding and Coping With Binge Eating Disorder: The Patient’s Perspective. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 76(8), 1044-1044.

Smink, F. R., Van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current psychiatry reports, 14(4), 406-414.

Strumia, R., & Feletti, F. (2013). Skin Signs due to Self-Induced Vomiting. In Eating Disorders and the Skin (pp. 59-60). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Thomson, S., Marriott, M., Telford, K., Law, H., McLaughlin, J., & Sayal, K. (2014). Adolescents with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa: parents’ experience of recognition and deciding to seek help. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry, 19(1), 43-57.

Turner, H., Marshall, E., Wood, F., Stopa, L., & Waller, G. (2016). CBT for eating disorders: The impact of early changes in eating pathology on later changes in personality pathology, anxiety and depression. Behaviour research and therapy, 77, 1-6.

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