Eating Disorders In Teens: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Eating disorders are common in all age groups which include teens. The development of eating disorders can be particularly alarming and have an impact on growth and health. Treat it as early as possible in young children which can prevent consequences in teens.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can be any of the mental and emotional disorders such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa marked by abnormal troubles in eating behaviors. A teen may be diagnosed to have an eating disorder if develops an unhealthy attitude towards food which can be detrimental to health and general well-being.

eating disorders

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa

It is a condition in which a teen does not eat enough food due to an irrational and intense fear of gaining too much weight. The teen can begin to imagine too fat even though may be thin. May do extreme dieting, exercising, or force to puke after eating food.

Bulimia nervosa

It is a disorder in which a teen starts to binge or gorge on food excessively. They may then eject the food by vomiting or by using laxatives to avoid weight gain.

Binge eating

It includes out-of-control eating due to which a teen may consume large amounts of food in a short span of time to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. However, binge eaters do not adopt purging and may end up becoming obese or overweight.



Pica disorder leads to a desire for chewing materials that have no nutritive value like paint, clay, soil, paper, ice. Teens start to enjoy the textures of certain nonfood items which is often a coping mechanism for psychological issues.

Rumination disorder

The teen repeatedly brings back partially digested food and re-chews it before swallowing it again though occasionally may spit it out as well. Rumination syndrome is usually a subconscious behavior rather than a conscious act.

Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder

It involves eating selective food items based on food’s smell, taste, appearance, texture, presentation, or brand.


The cause of the occurrence of eating disorders in teens is not clear. But more often than not eating disorders can be linked to underlying emotions. The child may be experiencing difficulty in handling various social, developmental, emotional issues such as bully, teasing, stress which may lead to an eating disorder. Variations in behavior regarding food may be a teen’s way of feeling in some control over the various happenings in life. Teens with low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, substance abuse are also at a greater risk of developing eating disorders. Moreover, the kind of impact social media has on impressionable teens along with celebrity trends and pop culture children often feel pressurized and may take to senseless dieting or develop a confused perception of what looks good.

Signs and symptoms

Weight loss

Teen losing weight at a progressive rate is a sign that something is not right. The teen may try to hide the rapid weight loss with loose clothing.

Social withdrawal

Teen may show reluctance to participate in social activities and seen to withdraw in a shell.


Excessive exercising

Teen may take up needless exercising despite being dangerously thin.

Strange eating habits

Teen may develop unusual eating patterns like avoiding meals, monitoring every single bite, eating secretly, eating only selective food items in small measures.

Extreme dieting

Teen may turn to unwarranted dieting despite being emaciated.

Body image concerns

Teen may become very self-critical owing to distorted body image.

Hoarding or hiding food

In case a teen starts buying or storing large amounts of food there is a possibility they might be hiding to binge and purge later.

Personality change

Teen may regularly exhibit emotions like anger, irritability, sadness, anxiety for no apparent reasons, or show hyperactivity like leg jiggling, difficulty in sitting still.


Other symptoms –

  • Distorted body image
  • Skipping most meals
  • Unusual eating habits
  • Frequent weighing
  • Extreme weight change
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash or dry skin
  • Dental cavities
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Loss of hair or nail quality
  • Hyperactivity and high interest in exercise

Do I have an eating disorder?

Teens with eating disorders are often in denial that anything is wrong. They may be moody, anxious, depressed. They may withdraw from friends and become overly sensitive to criticism. More problems arise when parents are not aware of these symptoms. Teens may hide things just like trauma, insecurities, depression, or low self-esteem that may help trigger the disorder.

The doctor may evaluate the family history regarding any mental or eating disorder, cases of obesity, or depression within the family. Also, further, assess the nutritional and mental state of the teen and conduct a physical examination to check weight, height, pulse, blood pressure, changes in hair and skin.


Although there is no easy treatment for eating disorders, they are treatable. A combination of treatment including cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medication, can be used to help teens overcome bulimia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps in identifying and replacing inaccurate thoughts to help change behavior and emotional state. Anorexia treatment usually involves nutritional feeding, medical monitoring, and psychological treatment.


It can be quite depressing for parents to realize teens with eating disorders. But, don’t worry, by taking the help of a therapist or nutritionist along with the support of family and friends it will get better and treated.

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