Eating Disorders In Teenagers: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Eating disorders affect all kinds of people and they are quite complex, but teenagers are at the most risk of developing eating disorders . Reasons may differ but most commonly it is peer pressure and bullying. Also it could be due to psychological problems, genetic predispositions or family relationships. All these issues potentially contribute to the development of eating disorders in teenagers.  All though there are many eating disorders among teenagers anorexia, Bulimia and binge-eating disorder are the three most common ones adolescent suffer from.

eating disorders in teenagers

Anorexia is the most common eating disorder among teens where they develop the desire to get thin and fear weight gain intensely. Bulimia refers to eating large quantities of food in a short period of time and later purging it out through self induced vomiting.

As the name suggests binge eating disorder is where a person cannot stop eating until they lose control around food which results in obesity. Although there are other eating disorders as well, these three disorders affect teenagers in highest rates.

Causes Of Eating Disorders In Teenagers

Genetics or Family history

If the teenager has a close relative or family who have suffered from an eating disorder, they are at an increased risk to develop an eating disorder as well because Genes are thought to play a part in increasing one’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Anxiety disorders

According to research, Having anxiety or social phobia could make teenagers feel insecure and anxious about their appearance and induce stress, which leads to eating disorders .



Many research and data indicates that teenagers who have suffered from any kind of abuse , may it be physical, emotional or sexual suffer from trauma and are more likely to suffer from an eating disorder as research indicates a strong correlation between eating disorder and past trauma.

Excessive dieting

In today’s age where weight loss is often encouraged and is looked positively towards, many teenagers feel the need to lose some pounds and achieve picture perfect body and sometimes in order to achieve this they go to extreme limits like dieting up to the point of starvation. Often this dieting escalates quickly and becomes excessive, thus resulting in more harm than good.

Body dissatisfaction

Peer pressure and overly active participation in social media have made teenagers to wish and aim for unrealistic body expectations and natural, flawed body does not appear to appeal them. This dissatisfaction results in psychological effects and teenagers feel poorly about themselves , hence leading to guilt and shame which quickly pushes them over an eating disorder.

Symptoms Of Eating Disorders In Teenagers

Physical Symptoms

Teenagers who suffer with anorexia experience Loss of menstruation, Brittle nails, cold extremities , light-headedness, hair loss and significant weight loss.

The symptoms of bulimia are eating large amount of food in a short period of time repeatedly. This is later followed with compensatory behaviours like self -induced vomiting, using laxatives and strenuous exercise which can make one lethargic. Other symptoms of bulimia are swollen glands , light – headedness , chest pain, heart palpitations. One may also experience dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, swollen hands and feet and constipation.

Another eating disorder which attacks in highest amount is binge-eating disorder which displays symptoms like excessive lethargy, rapid weight gain, changes in sleep patterns. It also often results in bloating and feeling constipated.


Behavioural symptoms

Behavioural symptoms of anorexia include strange eating habits or rituals , hiding food, expressing fear of weight gain, refusing to eat certain foods  and frequently weighing self and getting conscious, social isolation, denial of hunger often resulting in fatigue.

Frequent trips to the bathroom

hiding food, constantly engaging in exercise throughout the day leading to fatigue and later social isolation are all the Behavioral symptoms of bulimia.

Behavioral symptoms of binge-eating disorder include Secretive behavior around food, inflicting self -harm, erratic behavior and social isolation.

Emotional symptoms

 Low self-esteem, getting extremely irritated, Increased need for approval and negative self-task which often leads to depression are the emotional symptoms of eating disorder bulimia.

Emotional symptoms of anorexia is getting easily irritated, depression, increased need for approval, anxiety, lack of motivation to engage in any activity.

Binge-eating disorder displays emotional symptoms like distorted body image, low self-esteem, anxiety, excessive dieting or obsession with food or developing sensitivity towards body shape and size.


Treatment For Eating Disorders In Teenagers

Psychological therapy

Psychotherapy focuses on thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which are related to your eating disorder. This helps you in gaining healthy eating behaviours and also helps you in learning to recognize distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorders and change them.

Nutrition Education

Seeking professional help from dietitians and involving them in your treatment can help you to develop a plan to achieve and maintain healthy eating habits. It also helps to understand eating disorder better.


Medicines are most effective when combined with psychological therapy and they alone can’t cure an eating disorder.  The most common medications which are used to treat eating disorders are Antidepressants. They are also helpful in treating eating disorders that involve binge-eating or purging. Medications are sometimes prescribed depending on the situation of the patient.

Taking Antidepressants can also help in reducing symptoms of anxiety or depression, which occurs frequently along with eating disorders.


If teenagers  have serious physical or mental health problems and  are unable to eat or gain weight, Hospitalization may be necessary. Eating disorder like anorexia could lead to severe or life-threatening physical health problems and this can lead to a medical emergency.

Hospitalization is done in order to stabilize acute medical symptoms.


Although there are many other ways to treat eating disorders. It is important to remember that if someone around you is suffering from an eating disorder, you must be compassionate and try to understand their situation and support them.