How to Spot Eating Disorders in Your Teen

eating disordersEating disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding both the issues of food and the person’s weight. However, these disorders often go unnoticed by the victim’s family and friends. Eating disorders often develop during the teenage years or the stage of early adulthood. The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia is an emotional disorder that is characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. Bulimia is an emotional disorder in which a large quantity of food is eaten in a short amount of time, followed by purging. Binge eating disorder is an emotional disorder in which one frequently consumes unusually large amounts of food and struggles to stop eating. This disorder is similar to bulimia; however; people with binge eating disorders do not purge after eating.

If these disorders are left untreated, they can cause serious health problems that can become life threatening. It is crucial that parents are able to recognize the warning signs of an eating disorder in their teenage child:


  • Becoming very thin
  • Feeling overweight in spite of being very thin
  • Having an extreme fear of gaining any weight
  • Obsessing about the amount of food he or she eats
    • Constantly counting calories, carbs and grams of fat in the foods they eat
    • Skipping meals throughout the day
    • Creating “food rituals”, such as chewing each bite of food a certain number of times before swallowing
  • Exercising excessively
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide their weight
  • Taking diet pills, water pills or laxatives
  • In females, missing their period or having very irregular periods


  • Skipping meals or eating very small portion sizes
  • Avoiding eating around others
  • Vomiting after eating (leaving the room immediately after eating to go to bathroom for an extended amount of time)
  • Sneaking food
  • Hiding empty containers of food
  • Fasting
  • Exercising excessively
  • Taking water pills or laxatives

Binge Eating Disorder:

  • Eating even when not hungry
  • Eating so much to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food in one meal or a short time period
  • Eating normal portions during meal times, and then eating large amounts of food afterwards when alone
  • Eating alone
  • Sneaking food
  • Constantly feeling depressed, moody or guilty after eating large amounts of food

It’s difficult to determine what causes eating disorders in teens, but there are theories. Experts believe it usually happens between the ages of 13 and 17 for a reason: this is a time of heightened emotional and physical changes, academic stressors and peer pressure. Additionally, during this time in a child’ life, teens may feel that they are not in control of their freedom and controlling what they eat and when they eat it, offers a certain control that they desire. For young girls, it’s normal and necessary to gain weight during puberty. This weight gain may make a girl feel insecure and unconfident, causing them to lose the weight any way possible.

If your teen has exhibited any of the symptoms listed above, contact your child’s doctor immediately. His or her medical provider can help evaluate your child’s specific symptoms and offer you recommendations of what to do next. By seeking professional help for your child, you are preventing him or her from developing even more serious health issues. In most cases, teenagers dealing with eating disorders seek treatment through counseling and working alongside a dietician to develop healthy eating habits.

Discussing your child’s eating disorder with him or her will not be easy; however, the conversation must happen. Despite how difficult it may be, remember that you are only doing what is best for your child’s health and happiness. For more information on the warning signs of eating disorders or tips on how to address your child’s eating disorder, please call the Association of Childcare Physicians, LTD. at 618-235-2311.