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

Teen eating disorders can take a devastating toll on adolescents — especially teen girls. To help protect your teen, understand the possible causes of teen eating disorders and know how to talk to your teen about healthy eating habits.

Why teens develop eating disorders

The exact cause of eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder — is unknown. However, various factors might put teens at risk of developing eating disorders.

For example:

  • Societal pressure. Modern Western culture tends to place a premium on being physically attractive and having a slim body. Even with a normal body weight, teens can easily develop the perception that they're fat. This can trigger an obsession with losing weight, dieting and being thin — especially for teen girls.
  • Low self-esteem. Teens who have low self-esteem might use their eating habits or weight loss to achieve a sense of stability or control.
  • Favorite activities. Participation in activities that value leanness — such as wrestling, running and ballet — 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 might also play a role.

Early consequences of teen eating disorders

At first, teen eating disorders can cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • For girls, menstrual irregularities

Later consequences of teen eating disorders

Eventually, teen eating disorders can cause more-serious or even life-threatening health problems, including:

  • Muscle wasting
  • Thinning hair
  • Bone loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Delayed growth and development
  • Anemia
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Seizures
  • Depression, which can spiral to suicidal thoughts or behavior
May 22, 2012 See more In-depth