Although the term “eating” is in the name, there is more to eating disorders than just food!

They refer to a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape.

Teens often face pressure from parents, peers or society, in general, to meet strict, unrealistic and harmful ideals around beauty; body type, weight and shape. To maintain or achieve the ‘ideal’ body shape and size, teens develop negative body image, which affects their confidence and physical and mental health. Read how does body image affect mental health in teenagers.

The natural or expected weight gain, along with other changes caused by puberty or having a parent/ guardian who is overly concerned about the teen’s weight or appearance, can lead to a negative body image and weight problems in teenagers.

Poor body image is often associated with females; however, male teens also suffer from it. They may feel as though they do not have enough abs or muscles or are not tall enough. A poor and negative body image can lead to eating disorders.

What Are Eating Disorders In Teenagers?

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are psychological disorders that cause risky eating behavior because of extreme dissatisfaction with their body image. They can cause serious health problems and may even result in death if left untreated. They tend to start in late childhood or early adulthood.


People who have anorexia are very strict about what they eat and how much they eat. They always think about the calories in the food they consume. They might also exercise too much or fast a lot. Others may use laxatives, diuretics or enemas to avoid weight gain.


People with bulimia eat much more than most people normally would. Then they would make up for the overeating by purging themselves or vomiting on purpose. Unlike people with anorexia who are underweight, people with bulimia may be thin, average weight or overweight. They often hide their eating and purging from others. The National Institutes of Health says you have bulimia if you eat uncontrollably, followed by purging at least twice a week for 3 months.

Binge eating

A person with a binge eating disorder east faster than normal. They may also eat alone so that others do not see how much they eat. If a person binge eats at least once a week for 3 months, it can be a sign of a binge eating disorder.

ARFID (Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder)

A person with ARFID does not eat and involve extreme restrictions on amount and type of food intake, but this is not because of body image, shape or size.  The cause is unknown but the person with ARFID can be turned off by the smell, taste, texture and colour of food, being hypersensitive to it and then developing a fear or anxiety towards it also. They may be afraid that they might choke or vomit. As a result they lose weight or do not gain the expected amount of weight.

Eating Disorder Signs And Symptoms:

A preoccupation with food and weight making it hard to focus on other aspects of life should be a red alert.

Mental and behavioral signs may include:

  1. dramatic weight loss
  2. avoid eating in public, excuses to avoid mealtime
  3. preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, or dieting
  4. complaints of constipation, cold intolerance, abdominal pain, lethargy, or excess energy
  5. intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  6. denying feeling hungry
  7. repeatedly weighing oneself
  8. patterns of binge eating and purging
  9. excessively exercising
  10. missing menstrual periods (in people who would typically menstruate)

physical signs of eating disorders in teenagers may include:

  1. stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms
  2. difficulty concentrating
  3. abnormal lab test results (anemia, low thyroid levels, low hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts)
  4. dizziness, fainting
  5. feeling cold all the time
  6. sleep irregularities, menstrual irregularities
  7. dry skin, dry, thin nails, thinning hair
  8. muscle weakness
  9. poor immune system function

Treatment Of Eating Disorders In Teens

Although treating eating disorders is not easy, they can be managed and treated.

The treatment of eating disorders in teens is done by a team of doctors, a dietitian and a therapist. The treatment includes nutrition counselling, medical treatment and talk therapy. If you think that you may have an eating disorder, talk to someone like a trusted adult, parent or school counsellor