Teen eating disorders: Tips to protect your teen

Concerned about teen eating disorders? Know what contributes to teen eating disorders, the consequences of eating disorders and the best strategies for prevention.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Eating disorders can take a devastating toll on teens — especially girls. To help protect your child, understand the possible causes of teen eating disorders and know how to talk to your son or daughter about healthy-eating habits.

Why teens develop eating disorders

Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact health, emotions and the ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. However, certain factors might put teens at risk of developing eating disorders, including:

  • Societal pressure. Popular culture tends to place a premium on being thin. Even with a normal body weight, teens can easily develop the perception that they're fat. This can trigger an obsession with losing weight and dieting.
  • Favorite activities. Participation in activities that value leanness — such as modeling and elite athletics — can increase the risk of teen eating disorders.
  • Personal factors. Genetics or biological factors might make some teens more likely to develop eating disorders. Personality traits such as perfectionism, anxiety or rigidity also might play a role.

Early consequences of teen eating disorders

Signs and symptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Be alert for eating patterns and beliefs that might signal unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that may trigger eating disorders. Some red flags that might indicate an eating disorder include:

  • Skipping meals, making excuses for not eating or eating in secret
  • Excessive focus on food and healthy eating
  • Persistent worry or complaining about being fat and talk of losing weight
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods
  • Use of dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss
  • Excessive exercise
  • Regularly going to the bathroom after eating
  • Eating much more food in a meal or snack than is considered normal
  • Expressing depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits
June 02, 2015 See more In-depth