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Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that are broadly characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. According to Proclamation 10340 of February 18, 2022, which is a presidential document by the Executive Office of the President, “nearly 1 in 10 Americans are expected to develop an eating disorder in their lifetime.” Recent data estimates up to 24 million people of all ages and genders currently suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S., and 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. The three most common eating disorders among adolescents are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED). Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and experts assert that 13% of adolescents will develop an eating disorder by the age of 20.

Warning Signs

With the exponential rise in eating disorders among teenagers, it is helpful for parents to learn about the respective warning signs. Anorexia nervosa is when a young person limits his or her food intake to the point of starvation, making his or her body unable to function properly or maintain a healthy weight. Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents. Warning signs a teenager is struggling with anorexia may include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Constantly weighing themselves
  • Obsessively reading nutritional information 
  • Weight gain fears
  • Eating only low-calorie foods 
  • Distorted body image 
  • Distracted and unable to concentrate
  • Skipping meals
  • Regularly making excuses not to eat
  • Denying there is a problem despite excessive weight loss

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves habitually overeating (bingeing) typically followed by purging (e.g., vomiting). There are several signs and symptoms that may manifest in a young person struggling with bulimia, which can include but are not limited to any combination of the following examples, provided by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  • Fear of eating in public or with others
  • Shows unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
  • Discolored, stained teeth
  • Has calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Diets frequently
  • Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Non-specific gastrointestinal complaints
  • Sleeping problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired immune system

The third most common type of eating disorder is known as binge-eating disorder. Teens with binge-eating disorder will excessively overeat in one sitting and experience out of control eating habits. Binge eaters make very little or no attempt to compensate for their overeating, which can lead to obesity. Young people with BED typically attempt to binge in private. Common warning signs include the following:

  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Depression
  • Eating in secret
  • Anxiety
  • Skipping meals
  • Finding hidden food in unusual places
  • Eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Continuing to eat, even when painfully full 
  • Inability to feel satiated
  • In extreme cases, suicidal ideation

Young people that suffer from eating disorders often struggle with malnutrition such as a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. If left untreated, eating disorders can result in severe short- and long-term consequences. The New York Times explains that early identification and intervention play a key role in the successful treatment of eating disorders. Therefore, if you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder it be best to err on the side of caution and pursue professional guidance.

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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