How do you recognize and help a teen with an eating disorder?

female with fork and food plate

Today, teens are seeing very skinny models in the media, touched up images and celebrities making them question their own weight and feel pressure to look a certain way.  Because of these pressures, many young women become unhappy with the way they look, which turns into a negative body image and low self-esteem. Although it’s normal for teens to not always feel happy with their bodies, it’s important for teens to find ways to feel comfortable with the natural shape and size of their bodies. Young women who have a poor body image and those who diet are at risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

At least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder.2, 3 Even though it touches so many people, it is more common in women, who have a 1.5 percent higher chance of developing anorexia and bulimia than men. Eating disorders are more common among adolescent females9, affecting up to 5 percent, a rate that has increased over the past 30 years.10,11 

Eating disorders are very serious and cause problems to a person’s eating behaviors. An eating disorder may arise when a person becomes fixated on food, body weight, and/or body shape. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Below are some of the more common symptoms of different eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Limiting food, leading to very low weight.
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight or being fat.
  • Believing one is “fatter” than they are.
  • Eating large amounts of food followed by vomiting, fasting, or a lot of exercise.
  • Happening at least once a week.
  • Believing one is “fatter” than they are.
  • Eating large amounts of food with a sense of loss of control.
  • Eating alone and faster than normal.

How do eating disorders affect a young woman's health?

  • Anorexia can cause hormonal changes, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and heart failure.
  • Bulimia can cause damage to one’s throat and teeth, dehydration, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Binge eating can lead to weight gain, which increases risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

How can I help a young woman I know with an eating disorder?
If you’re afraid that someone you care about may have an eating disorder, it’s important to try and speak to them about it.

  • Be a strong support and help them see a mental health professional who may suggest one or more of the following:
    • Medication
    • Psychotherapy
    • Medical care and monitoring
    • Speaking with a nutritionist
  • Learn as much as you can.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Encourage the person, their family or loved ones to seek help.

With professional help, eating disorders can be treated. People suffering from an eating disorder can work toward living a long and healthy life if they have the appropriate support system, services and medical care.

Do you have any further questions about eating disorders or any other mental health conditions? Reach out to us at


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