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Eating disorders in teens: How to cope

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ATLANTA -

The teen and tween years can be tricky, but that's especially true for young women who feel like they don't measure up.  

For Leighton Jordan, the cycle of dieting and binging and purging began at the age of 12.  First, it was a way for her to get the "perfect" ballet body.  But then, it became a way not to be perfect.  Soon, the thing that gave her a feeling of control took control.      

"I for so many years thought, ‘Oh, this will go away one day.  I'll wake up one day and it will be gone,'" she said.  "And finally one day when I stopped living in denial, I realized, no, it's not going to be gone. I'm going to have to put a lot of hard work into getting my life back."

Last fall, Leighton began treatment at the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders.  Her therapist, Dr. Linda Buchanan, knows all the red flags: a change in personality, or friends, or grades; going to the bathroom after meals; a fixation with food, even if they're eating less and less.

"Because as you eat less, your body does try to get you to think about food more because it's trying to motivate you to find food, so you do become more focused and obsessed with food," Dr. Buchanan said.

Teens may develop secretive eating habits and strict rules about food.  Buchanan says they may have a distorted body image and extreme fear of gaining weight.  That can lead to excessive dieting and over-exercising, then binging.

Like Leighton, a lot of teens who struggle with eating disorders are overachievers.  Buchanan says the disorder becomes a faulty way of controlling and coping with life.
   
"They can get stuck in such a vicious cycle of they keep trying to make up for the mistake of the past behavior, and all that does is lead to the next behavior," said Buchanan.  "Like, ‘I shouldn't have purged, so I just won't eat all day tomorrow.'"

Doctors don't know what causes eating disorders.  Buchanan says research shows some people may be hardwired to be more vulnerable to developing a problem.  

To read more about the warning signs and find resources for families, click here for a link to the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders website.

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