Can stress contribute to my child’s eating disorder?


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Although we may not realize it, back to school can cause additional stress for adolescents and teens. Additionally, this stress can lead to serious mental health issues such as an eating disorder.

Is there a connection between stress and eating disorders?

Understanding why adolescents are stressed is important. The number one cause of stress for individuals ages 11-17 is getting good grades, followed by preparing for the future. What is key to note in the reasoning behind adolescent and teen stress is loneliness and body image.

For many, the feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control can lead them to search for coping mechanisms that may include unhealthy behaviors around food.  It is estimated that over one-half of teenage girls use weight control behaviors such as restricting food, fasting, smoking cigarettes, or vomiting and taking laxatives to cope with emotions. Behaviors such as binge eating or limiting calories, as with anorexia, can sometimes give a false sense of feeling less stressed.

Even for adults, loneliness can be a trigger to unhealthy behavior. Using food, compulsive exercise, binge eating, or restricting can cause someone to have a numb feeling as they drown out the loneliness. However, these behaviors are only temporary and will often lead to an increased level of anxiety or move the person towards depression.

Body image is also another cause of increased stress among adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 50% of girls ages 9-10 feel better about themselves if they are dieting.  Obsessing over their appearance is not uncommon for adolescents, but when the thoughts become constant and there is a fixation on perceived flaws, they no longer see the reality in their reflection.

What are the symptoms of stress and eating disorders?

There are some signs to look for if you think your adolescent may be stressed or in danger of developing an eating disorder.

Stress (Mental Health America):

  • Headaches or other unexplained aches and pains
  • More frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Getting colds more than usual
  • Feeling sad or moody
  • Seeming “burned out”
  • Sounding defeated when talking about challenges
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fighting with family and friends
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Acting nervous or anxious

Eating Disorders (National Eating Disorders Association):

  • A distorted body image
  • Skipping most meals
  • Unusual eating Frequent weighing
  • Extreme weight change
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash or dry skin
  • Dental cavities
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Loss of hair or nail quality
  • Hyperactivity and high interest in exercise

How can I help?

Adolescents may not recognize the signs of stress or how to effectively deal with it. As a parent, it is important to offer empathy and understanding and help them find positive coping mechanisms. Here are a few things you can do when your child becomes stressed.

  • Be Available and Listen. When your child wants to share their concerns or feelings it is important to take the time to talk. Actively listen to what they are saying and express interest in what they are sharing. Understand that adolescents may only share part of what they are feeling but encourage them gently to share more.
  • Respond Thoughtfully. Your child may shut down if you appear angry or defensive. Focus on how your child is feeling and what they are sharing. Ask them what they may want or need from you – is it advice or help with the situation or in solving a problem.
  • Be a Model. Adolescents learn by watching their parents, and that holds true with how they react when stressed or anxious. Help your child learn healthy coping skills by modeling positive behaviors.

Most importantly, help them to understand that when they feel overwhelmed that they are not alone, knowing when to ask for help takes great courage. Help them to understand that you are there to support them and will find additional help if needed.

At Selah House, we understand that stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors and we are here to help. Our Adolescent Program provides the help adolescents need to build a healthy foundation. We provide evidence-based care for females ages 12 and older who are suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Our professional team works with clients individually to design a treatment plan that is customized to meet their unique needs. Additionally, we understand that continuing education while in eating disorder recovery is also important. For this reason, we have a teacher on-staff that works with adolescents to implement a continuing education plan during their recovery.

Our levels of care are designed to offer a clear-step down process so that clients feel supported throughout their recovery journey.  Each level of care provides individual treatment utilizing a variety of individual and group therapies.

  • Inpatient: Structured 24-hour care that focuses on medical stabilization, weight restoration, and psychiatric support.
  • Residential: Step-down option for those who need a less intense treatment, with 24-care, and medical and psychiatric supervision.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program: A less intense and structured option to practice recovery outside of a controlled treatment environment.

Selah House helps make freedom from an eating disorder a reality. We encourage you to call us today for more information about our Adolescent Treatment Program. Our admissions team is available 24-hours a day by calling 765.819.2524 or completing our contact form.


But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. – Mark 10:14

Take the First step for yourself or someone your love

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