Eating Disorders In Teens

Eating disorders are not uncommon in teens, what with society dictating that thin is beautiful.

Eating disorders are actually fairly prevalent among teens and adolescents, particularly among young women. In fact, 90% of people with eating disorders are women. It has also been reported that one out of seven women dealt with or is currently dealing with an eating disorder at any given time. In 2003, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 36% of adolescent girls claimed they are overweight, and 59% of them were trying to lose weight.

While the majority of people struggling with eating disorders are girls, boys are also concerned with their body image. Boys resort to dieting or by exercising compulsively to achieve the perfect body.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are defined as psychological disorders involving extreme disturbances in eating behavior. These include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Teens with eating disorders resort to extreme measures to keep the weight off. For example, a teen with bulimia has this pattern of binge eating, then vomiting or taking laxatives to get rid of the food, purging which also includes using diuretics, or doing hours and hours of aerobic exercise.


Many experts report that many American girls are bulimic and that they keep it a secret. It has been found that bulimia begins in the late teens to early adulthood. Bulimics follow a cycle of binge eating then purging.

Warning signs of bulimia include extreme preoccupation about weight, eating high-calorie eating binges after a strict diet, overeating when anxious or distressed, feeling out of control, suddenly disappearing after eating, feeling depressed, substance abuse, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercising, and irregular menstrual cycles.

Causes of eating disorders in teens

There is no single cause of an eating disorder. Experts believe it could be a combination of a number of factors including relationships, psychological problems and genetics.

A teenager with low self-esteem may desire to have a thin body thinking it would somehow make him/her look and feel better.

Some kinds of activities such as sports are associated with eating disorders. For instance, in ballet or gymnastics, people are encouraged to be thin, and can sometimes trigger that desire to lose weight.

In other studies, anorexia has been linked with an obsession with perfectionism – being overly concerned about mistakes, high personal standards, parental expectations and criticism.

Symptoms of eating disorders in teens

Eating disorder symptoms may include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Weird eating habits
  • Constipation
  • Weighing oneself frequently
  • Extreme weight change
  • Distorted body image
  • Skin dryness and/or rashes
  • Dental cavities and erosion of tooth enamel
  • Loss of hair and/or nail quality
  • Hyperactivity and high interest in exercise

Teens that have eating disorders are usually in denial that they have a problem. They are usually anxious and moody, even depressed. They sometimes become withdrawn and overly sensitive to criticism.

Because teens with eating disorder are in denial and are secretive about their doings, parents are usually unaware that something is wrong with their kid. And therein lies the problem. If parents have no clue about what their teens are going through, they cannot intervene and seek help for their children.

Treating eating disorders

There is no one treatment to treat eating disorders.

Usually a combination of treatments is used to treat eating disorders, including taking antidepressant medication and undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy identifies and replaces incorrect thoughts to change behavioral and emotional state.

In the case of anorexia, treatment involves a number of factors. Anorexia is an extremely serious disorder. Anorexics usually receive nutritional feeding, medical monitoring and psychological treatment.

Eating disorders and health

Eating disorders can have a serious impact on a teen’s health. If not treated, eating disorders can cause serious illnesses, even death.

Girls with anorexia nervosa can have amenorrhea, a condition where a girl loses her menstrual period. Amenorrhea is linked to osteopenia or early bone loss. Osteopenia can lead to painful fractures and other problems.

Eating disorders are also associated with other serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and sleep apnea.