Eating Disorders in Teens and Adolescents

teenage eating disorders girl standing on scale

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What is an eating disorder?

If you’re the parent of a teen, it can be hard to tell if they’re struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex with a range of symptoms. Because symptoms can be hard to recognize, teen eating disorders often go untreated. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it’s important to learn to identify the signs and symptoms. And if you see your teen is affected, you can help them find the treatment they need. Read on to learn about the types of eating disorders, how they might manifest in your teen, and how you can help.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

There are many kinds of eating disorders, but the most common are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Below are some signs and symptoms that may show your teen is suffering from one of these disorders:

  • Extreme food restrictions (skipping meals, eating very small portions throughout the day, fasting, or dieting)
  • Avoiding social or family events that involve food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Eating large amounts of food all at once
  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • A refusal to maintain healthy body weight, or fear of gaining weight
  • Concerned about being thin
  • Pale skin and/or dark circles under their eyes from malnutrition
  • Menstrual irregularities
teenager at a mental health appointment discussing eating disorders

Causes of Eating Disorders in Teens and Children

Eating disorders in teens and children are often caused by other mental health struggles, like depression or anxiety. Disordered eating behaviors maybe your child’s way of attempting to cope with stressors in their life. These could include bullying, family problems, poor body image, or feeling a lack of control. Societal beauty standards can also lead to or exacerbate disordered eating behaviors.

What to Do if You Think Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder

If you suspect your teen may have an eating disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent the disorder from developing and causing further health complications. Be sure you let your kiddo know that you don’t judge them and that you care about their health and wellbeing. Make an appointment with a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders. A therapist can help your teen take steps toward repairing their relationship with food and addressing the root causes of the issue. Your child’s doctor or therapist may recommend family therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, or medication as a part of the treatment plan. If you’re looking for a resource to help your teen begin their recovery journey, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org/teenagers.

Author Bio: Joan Harris is an ex-therapist turned writer with a passion for spreading mental health awareness.

Citation: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

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This article shares the types of eating disorders, how they might manifest in your teen, and how you, as their parent can help.
This article shares the types of eating disorders, how they might manifest in your teen, and how you, as their parent can help.

Share with a friend!

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I'm so honored that you've found us! I'm Heather, a Mom of 3 who blogs about parenting, food, occasional travel and how I overcame my daily struggle with anxiety. I miss sleeping and rely on coffee and laughter to get me through the day. I hope you enjoy and visit often!

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  1. It is good to be aware of the signs of eating disorders. There are so many things out there that put negative influences on our kids and it is important to make sure you are able to spot the signs.

  2. This is such a helpful and informative article! All parents should read this post and take the necessary steps for their teenage kids.

  3. This is something that parents need to know. I have a teen son. He doesn’t have an eating disorder but it’s good to know these signs.

  4. Adolescents are very sensitive and any problem can cause a big one. We need to be careful and talk a lot with them!

  5. Eating disorders need to be talked about more. I worry sometimes about my tween daughter who seems to be so critical of her body lately.

  6. Now a days I feel so bad for teens. They have to compare themselves to edited photos on the internet. Thank you for sharing this and spreading awareness!

  7. Yes, I hear that’s so common. I never talk about diets and such around my kids. I always tell them that they’re beautiful and smart no matter what and if they have questions, to come to me.

  8. A very informative article, this is one of the biggest problems for teens in the world today. The pressure of us world that we live in is the cause of it.

  9. It pays to be watchful when it comes to possible signs of eating disorders. It’s a dangerous condition that should be addressed early on.