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Identifying Eating Disorders in Teens

Eating disorder rates in teenagers continue to be on the rise.  Teens often feel pressure to look and act a certain way and this mindset can cause disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.  While some eating disorders are more easily recognizable than others, it is important to keep in mind that all four of these eating disorders exist and can cause problems with loved ones, friends, and family.

While all parents have the hope that their children will not develop eating disorders or have any trouble with food, the scary truth is that it does happen, and you need to be on the lookout for signs of these eating disorders, as well as have an understanding of what each eating disorder is.  Also, keep in mind that eating disorders do not just affect girls, either – every year, there are plenty of males who are also develop eating disorders!


Anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders that teens struggle with.  Anorexia is characterized by a severe restriction in calories leading to significantly low body weight.  Individuals with anorexia often have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image.  Anorexics may also engage in other weight loss activities such as excessive exercise, use of diuretics, and self-induced vomiting.



Bulimia is another common eating disorder that many teens face.  Bulimia is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating (eating excessively in a small window of time and feeling a lack of control over that eating), along with compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercise.


Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a newly recognized eating disorder, and is also the most common eating disorder in the United States, topping both anorexia and bulimia.  The eating disorder is characterized by the person’s eating large amounts of food in one sitting to the point where they might even feel sick (binge episode).  Often binge eaters feel shame, guilt, or disgust towards themselves immediately following a binge eating episode.  The primary difference between binge eating disorder and bulimia of the absence of compensatory behaviors following the binge.


Signs of Eating Disorders in Teens

If you believe your teen or a friend or family member might be struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to keep watch for signs of the disorder.  Some signs of an eating disorder in teenagers include:

  • Eating in secret
  • Cutting food up into small pieces, pushing it around on plate
  • Not eating lunch in school
  • Eating more than normal
  • Eating less than normal
  • Being preoccupied with food
  • Excessive calorie counting
  • Skipping meals
  • Purging or using laxatives frequently
  • Binging
  • Food avoidance or food phobias
  • Constant fear of and talk about becoming fat
  • Too frequent exercising
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain


What You Can Do to Help

If you have noticed these behaviors in your teen or a friend or family member, it is important to sit them down and talk to them about your concerns, but do so in a friendly manner so they do not feel as though they are being attacked.  Keep an eye on their behaviors, and if you still believe they might have a problem, or if they’ve told you they may have a problem, get help.  Seek counseling for them, speak to them, and get them involved in a therapy program that might help them come to terms with what is going on in their lives, and change it.  A visit to their doctor is also important, as they can help decide what to do and give their opinion as a licensed medical professional.  Sometimes rehabilitation at a therapy center might be helpful, where they can be monitored and cared for during their recovery.  No matter what stage they are at, it is crucial to get them help as soon as you notice something, before the disorder escalates too far and becomes more difficult to treat.


Identifying eating disorders in teens might seem difficult, but if you pay attention, you can often notice the smaller, more subtle signs that they are putting out there, such as avoiding food, counting calories, eating a lot in one sitting, and big changes in weight.  As a parent, friend, or family member, it is important to keep an eye out for these telltale signs that something might be wrong so you can help guide them to treatment.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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