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Can a child's anxiety be causing an eating disorder?

Can a child’s anxiety be causing an eating disorder?

September 05 | By TATH Team

Anxiety is an unavoidable part of life and is a normal response to stress. Many of the stressful events witnessed on a regular basis are usually harmless and help children develop coping skills. Every child and adult goes through it intermittently at many stages of his or her life. However, it develops into a disorder when children start feeling overwhelmed by irrational and exaggerated fears, anxieties or apprehensions, and witness a range of negative symptoms, such as irritability, restlessness, etc.  They also start avoiding specific situations and places to such an extent that it severely impacts their day-to-day functioning.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and specific phobias to name a few, that are collectively among the most common mental disorders affecting Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that almost 25.1 percent teens suffer from anxiety disorders in the country.

Excessive indulgence in food is often a self-treatment measure to alleviate anxiety

Anxiety and eating disorders have a highly complex relationship. Contrary to the conventional belief, most of the cases of eating disorders are not necessarily a repercussion of changes in food patterns. They often stem from an underlying untreated emotional issue. Generally, children tend to treat their anxieties and fears by adopting self-treatment measures such as excessive indulgence or avoidance of food. Moreover, a number of disturbing behavioral changes are seen in children indulging in semi-starvation or starvation.

Eating disorders can develop as a means to control anxiety symptoms. Therefore, anxiety is often a precursor to an eating disorder. Likewise, it appears that people with OCD, SAD and PTSD are most likely to develop eating disorders. Some of the categories of eating disorders quite prevalent among teenagers are as below:

·         Anorexia nervosa: A psychological and life-threatening eating disorder characterized by severe self-limitation due to the obsession for a particular body image and weight. This leads to decreased consumption of food in fear of gaining weight and looking fat. People with this condition tend to look underweight and emaciated.

·         Binge eating: This eating disorder is identifiable by the tendency of a teenager to consume enormous amounts of food due to his or her inability to control himself or herself. People afflicted with this condition tend to eat even when not hungry. They eat quickly and beyond the point of feeling full despite feeling upset and embarrassed about their eating behavior.

·         Bulimia nervosa: This problem is characterized by purging or forcefully vomiting out after binge eating. Such severe are the symptoms that teenagers suffering from this disorder even use laxatives to do so. Bulimia nervosa is a vicious cycle starting with binge eating to experience the feeling of emotional relief and ends with the purging of the food due to the feeling of guilt pervading one’s consciousness.

Severe restrictions in diet result in psychological problems

An interesting experiment, known famously as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and conducted in 1944 at the University of Minnesota, analyzed the far-reaching mental, physical and social effects of food restriction and disordered eating. The study stands relevant in the light of the increased practice of calorie counting in the society.

This study was conducted over a period of 13 months with 36 physically and psychologically healthy adult men. The objective of the study was to provide inputs to relief workers on the psychological effects of starvation as a number of horrific news from war-ravaged nations were flooding the United States after the end of World War II. The findings demonstrated that psychological problems can arise due to severe restriction in diet and the body may not be able to distinguish between dieting and starvation.

Proper treatment is essential

As in the case of substances like drugs and alcohol, eating disorders develop as a coping mechanism to manage situations that cause overwhelming fear or anxiety. In case of any eating disorders, all therapies and medications may prove ineffective if the eating issues have not been dealt with simultaneously. Since the cause of eating disorders are usually complex, the recovery process would require professional evaluation and treatment.

If you know someone who is suffering from anxiety disorders or eating disorders, you can contact the experts at the Anxiety Treatment Help who can suggest effective treatment options for the distressed. Chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline 866-487-5015 for information on some of the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in Texas.

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