Home > Teens > Teen Health and Safety > Eating Disorders > Teens and Eating Disorders: What Are the Warning Signs?

Teens and Eating Disorders: What Are the Warning Signs?

Eating disorders are psychological problems that require therapeutic intervention. These disorders make normal functioning difficult and can become chronic, life-threatening illnesses requiring hospitalization.

If you suspect your teen (male or female; boys suffer from eating disorders, too) has a problem, talk to your doctor. Don't attempt to correct the problem alone. Eating disorders stem from an underlying problem, and if you focus on food without dealing with the larger issue, you run the risk of making things worse. It's vital that you seek help. Research shows that early recognition and treatment of eating disorders provide the best chance for recovery.

Anorexia Nervosa

In this disorder, a preoccupation with dieting and thinness leads to excessive weight loss through self-starvation.

Young adolescents who participate in sports such as dance or gymnastics where size and weight are important to success are especially prone to anorexia nervosa. (They're often told, “Be thin to win.”) Young girls who entered puberty early, have low self-esteem, or have negative feelings about their bodies are also potentially at risk. Here are some warning signs to watch for:

Info Flash

One percent of teenage girls in the United States develop anorexia nervosa; up to 10 percent of those who do may die as a result, according to information distributed by the American Anorexia/Bulimia Association.

  • Losing a significant amount of weight (25 percent of normal body weight) when no diet plan is needed or has been discussed
  • Distorted body image—the teenager feels “fat” even when she's very thin
  • Continuing to diet even once she's thin
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Amenorrhea (losing monthly menstrual periods)
  • Being preoccupied with food, calories, nutrition, and/or cooking
  • Exercising compulsively
  • Bingeing and purging

Bulimia Nervosa

This disorder involves frequent episodes of binge eating, almost always followed by purging (through vomiting, starvation, and laxatives) and intense feelings of guilt or shame about food. The bulimic feels out of control and recognizes that the behavior is not normal. Up to five percent of college women in the U.S. are bulimic, and one-third of bulimics have a history of being overweight. Here are some danger signs of bulimia:

  • Bingeing or eating uncontrollably, often secretly
  • Purging by strict dieting, fasting, vigorous exercise, vomiting, or abusing laxatives or diuretics in an effort to lose weight
  • Using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • Preoccupation with body weight
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Irregular periods
  • Developing dental problems, swollen cheek glands, or bloating

If you notice any warning signs, be sure to consult your doctor.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager © 1996 by Kate Kelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

easter fun
& crafts

Egg-cellent ideas
for tons of
Easter fun.



Healthy Smile Checklist for Kids
Have better dental check-ups with this free printable checklist that helps keep your child flossing, brushing, and smiling! Brought to you by Philips Sonicare.

Kindergarten Readiness App
It's kindergarten registration time! Use this interactive kindergarten readiness checklist, complete with fun games and activities, to practice the essential skills your child needs for this next big step. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

8 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Need some fun ideas for decorating Easter eggs with the kids? Look no further for colorful and cool designs!

7 Ways to Curb Kids' Exposure to Violence
American children are exposed to violence more often than you might think. Learn how to limit your child's exposure to violence and manage the mental health and behavioral effects it can cause.