teen eating disorders

The push to be thin and pretty starts young, and the teenage years are some of the most challenging to survive. More than one-half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys turn to unhealthy weight control behaviors to fit the idea of “perfect.”

Such behaviors include skipping meals, vomitingfasting, smoking cigarettes, and taking laxatives. These behaviors aren’t healthy for a growing teen and can lead to full-blown anorexia or bulimia, which can cause long-term physical and mental damage. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to disordered eating. Of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

Eating disorders aren’t just for women. Males represent 25 percent of individuals with anorexia and bulimia, and 36 percent of those with binge eating disorder. Eating problems can start very young, too, with 46 percent of 9-11-year-olds on diets either “sometimes” or “very often.” In teens and tweens, dieting actually promotes weight gain.

Signs Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 23 to March 1. If you think your teen is at risk for an eating disorder, watch for these signs. (More info about eating disorders.)

  • Eating tiny portions or refusing to eat
  • Strenuous exercising (for more than an hour)
  • Intense fear of being fat
  • Distorted body image
  • Hoarding and hiding food
  • Eating in secret
  • Disappearing after eating—often to the bathroom
  • Large changes in weight, both up and down
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Hiding weight loss by wearing bulky clothes
  • Little concern over extreme weight loss
  • Stomach cramps
  • Menstrual irregularities—missing periods
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Sleep problems
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (from sticking finger down throat to cause vomiting)
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy face
  • Fine hair on body
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellow skin
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet

Getting Help

If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, he/she/you will need help. Eating disorders are not something you “just get over.” You can contact us here at Generations Family Practice. Or, you can contact the NEDA hotline for support in your area at (800) 931-2237. Phone hours are Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. You can also get more information or check the NEDA database for treatment providers near you at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support.