Struggling With an Eating Disorder as a Teen

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






By: Abby Shapiro

High School may be the hardest years of one’s life before adulthood.

“Jamey!  Over here,” calls out one of her best friends, Cassie.  An athletic, healthy girl sits down with her orange lunch tray loaded with food. It’s third lunch, and Jamey is famished.

Cassie and Lily, another good friend, are sharing a laugh as they look at their phones.

“What’s so funny?” Jamey asks.

“Oh, just Kim Kardashian. She’s just let herself go. Look at her!” Cassie laughs.

“Yeah, she’s just put on so much weight. Does she even care about herself anymore?” Lily asks sarcastically.

“What are you talking about? Kim just had a baby,” Jamey says.

“Yeah, but still. She still doesn’t look too good. Maybe she should eat less,” Lily chuckles.

Jamey looks down at her lunch tray and begins to rethink eating her hamburger, french fries, ice cream, and sprite, which a number of student athletes would gladly have. “Am I fat? Do my friends view me as a Kim Kardashian? Do I need to lose some weight?” she thinks to herself.

Jamey restricts the foods she usually eats to be like the models in magazines that every teenage girl aspires to be, then all foods in general. Jamey loses weight quickly and is close to being hospitalized for being malnourished. Jamey believes she doesn’t have a problem, but by now, everyone but Jamey knows she does.

Many teenagers across complain about being hungry around the clock, like Jamey, a fictional character.  According to BEAT Eating Disorders, 11 percent of teenagers are hungry by choice. High school is a long and hard process, but coping with a disorder with the highest death rate among every mental disorder makes it much more difficult.

Similarly, one of four of Hershey High School’s Guidance Counselors, Ellen Ott, gave a perspective on how we, as a society, should improve on this problem and how to make teens aware. “I think influential people have made a movement to recognize this as being an issue, but it needs to be talked about more,” she said.

On November 2, 2015 at the Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine, An inspirational poem to help those with an eating disorder is posted inside the. A number of quotes were posted inside for others to read and find hope in their difficult situation. Recover and recovery were highlighted to emphasize the importance of getting help.

An inspirational poem to help those with an eating disorder is posted inside Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine on November 2, 2015. A number of quotes were posted inside for others to read and find hope in their difficult situation. Recover and recovery were highlighted to emphasize the importance of getting help.

Correspondingly to what Ott said about society’s views, an anonymous high school student whose name has been changed to protect her identity, Morgan, talked about what it is like to live with an eating disorder in this era of time.

“Just seeing myself in the mirror and looking through magazine pictures and social media is very triggering for me. Going on sites like Tumblr [a microblogging platform social media site] was, and still is, very hard for me. Eating disorders are sort-of ‘favored’ on Tumblr. There are hashtags like #pro-ana [anorexia] and #thinspo [thin inspiration],” Morgan said.

For Ott social media takes part of the blame, “Our society sets up our youth to think they have to look a certain way, due to magazines and movie stars.”

Likewise, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 69 percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that the pictures in magazines influenced their idea of a perfect body shape, and 20 percent of people suffering from anorexia nervosa will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and possible organ failure.

Additionally having this problem can interfere with a number of things socially and academically. Morgan believes that she has had many problems with this disorder.

“I get anxious a lot of the time in a social setting, which is not good for me because that adds more on my plate with the amount of school work I get. I can’t participate in sports because I’m constantly tired and run-down,” Morgan said.

For Morgan the problems are exacerbated by peer pressure conflicting with the pressure the disorder puts on her.

“When someone says  ‘why aren’t you eating’ or ‘just eat something’ to me, it’s actually very hard on me,” Morgan said,  “Just imagine having a person screaming in your head every second when you have food in front of your face telling you not to eat.”

Searching for help is an important decision for a teen to make in order to fully recover. Research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness on mental health in college campuses have shown that 1 in 4 students have a diagnosable illness (greater than in high school), 40 percent do not seek help, 80 percent feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and 50 percent have been so anxious that they have struggled in school.

“With the amount of kids like me who look down on their bodies, this should be discussed in schools. I feel like it’s important for kids to be aware of this [issue]. Teens like me need to feel supported and safe especially in a social area,” Morgan said.

“Some kids may not eat and think it’s normal and that everyone does it. It definitely is far from normal, and I think school-aged people like me should become more aware of that,” Morgan said.

Instead of restricting, some should be wondering, what should I be eating? How much do I need in a day to be healthy?

Taken on November 8, 2015, a side view of the Briarcrest office from the stair window, what people view when they pull up to the office. The Briarcrest Office provides anything from pediatrics to help with those fighting eating disorders.

Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine is located in Briarcrest square.  Taken on November 8, 2015, a side view of the Briarcrest office from the stair window, what people view when they pull up to the office. 

When it comes to what to a teen needs to eat Dolores Becker, a registered dietitian at Penn State Hershey Medical Group – Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine, knows the necessary nutrition needed for a growing teen.

“A non-athletic female typically needs 2,000 calories, and a non-athletic male needs 2,500 calories. But, body size plays a role. An athletic teenager typically adds 500 calories to their diet than a teenager that is non-athletic,” Becker said.

“Teens need 75 percent of what they “deem” healthy foods and 25 percent of fun foods,” Becker said.

Helpguide.org, a non-profit guide to mental health and well-being, said due to all the growth and activity, adolescent boys need 2,500-2,800 calories per day, while girls need around 2,200 calories per day. It’s best to get these calories from lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fruits and veggies.

“Eating disorders among teens are shown in many different forms,” said Jennifer Wagner-Felker, a psychotherapist at Penn State Hershey Medical Group – Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine. Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine specializes in adolescent medicine, pediatrics, and eating disorders.

Wagner-Felker treats a number of adolescent issues, but, “Eating disorders are a broad category and can be presented in many ways. The most common occurrences I see among teens would be restricting, purging, and compulsive exercise.”

Although the health curriculum at Hershey High School does not touch on the subject of eating disorders often, DTSD does have a a number of psychologists: one for grades K-1, one for grades 2-3 and 6-8, and one for grades 4-5 and 9-12. On the Derry Township School District’s website notes, “Derry Township’s school psychologists and masters/doctoral level school psychology interns work to find the best solution for each student and situation and use varied strategies to address student needs and to improve school and district-wide support systems.”

Many schools attempt to address every student’s issues, but some students would rather keep to themselves.

“I was afraid that a teacher or guidance counselor would just not necessarily care that I had this disorder and take it lightly. This is a big problem among many teens, and no one should face it alone,” Morgan said.

Wagner-Felker agreed, “Schools should help with eating disorder prevention starting at a young age and presenting balance when it comes to eating, but this has made kids anxious in the past. Rather than focusing on foods to avoid, schools should focus on the nutrition kids really need.”

Going to a trusted adult, psychologist, psychotherapist like Wagner-Felker or a school guidance counselor like Ott can be the best help a teenage student with an eating disorder could find to conquer it.

Wagner-Felker also said that it is very important for a child to not engage in dieting behaviors because dieting can lead to eating disorders, which can possibly lead to anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders and eating disorders are intergenerationally transmitted, meaning that if a parent has a certain disorder or sickness, it’s able to be passed down to the future generation.

The Penn State Hershey Medical Group-Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine on November 2, 2015, Hershey, specializes in treating adolescents with eating disorders, pediatrics, and adolescent medicine. The center helped and will continue to help people, from adolescents to the elderly.

The Penn State Hershey Medical Group-Briarcrest Adolescent Medicine on November 2, 2015, Hershey, specializes in treating adolescents with eating disorders, pediatrics, and adolescent medicine. The center helped and will continue to help people, from adolescents to the elderly.

According to WebMD, a growing body of research indicates that you can indeed get anorexia from your parents but not in the way previously thought. Eating disorders appear to be as strongly genetically linked as many other major psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Eating disorders can also be a problem for the rest of one’s life if help is not looked for.

“It used to be mainly adolescents [coming into the Briarcrest Office], or teens ages 13-20, but nowadays it’s across the board with who we see. We have even seen senior citizens here a few times,” Wagner-Felker said.

Knowledgeable adults believe that this problem should start with how society touches on the issue with high school aged teenagers so problems like these do not continue into adulthood.

And the guidance department at Hershey High understands the problem as well as the roots of the problem.  “We as a society have placed beauty with size. We should not glorify these aspects of sickness/size as beauty. Until people take a stand to not allow themselves to be photoshopped and be confident with a healthy image, this issue will continue,” Ott said.

Self-treatment for eating disorders is rarely completely effective.  Seeking treatment with a trained professional, or someone who can direct you to one, is the best option according to experts in treating eating disorders.

“I am getting help,” Morgan said, “and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”