I think my teen has an eating disorder…what should I do?

Have you noticed a change in your teen’s behavior at the dinner table? Are they cutting their food into small pieces, avoiding certain types of foods, or just eating less overall? Perhaps they are no longer gaining weight even though they are still growing, or they are losing weight. You also think you’ve heard them vomiting in the bathroom and you are concerned, but you don’t know what to do.

The changes in your teen’s behavior may be the result of an eating disorder. There are a few types of eating disorders. The first, anorexia, is when a person eats very little or avoids eating anything at all. Teenagers with anorexia may refuse to eat and can become malnourished. They may also exercise for long amounts of time, leading to further weight loss. Another common type of eating disorder is bulimia. Teens with bulimia may eat normally, but will then often purge the food from their body through vomiting or using laxatives. Many teens may also suffer from disordered eating, where they have very strict rules about what they eat in order to avoid gaining weight. This can also be a serious issue, and can be harder to notice. Teens with disordered eating might eat in a way that looks like a healthy diet (for example, all vegetables, no fat, no carbs, etc.) but can actually be a result of an unhealthy relationship with food or a poor body image. 

While women are more likely to develop eating disorders, the reality is they can impact anyone and everyone. Regardless of their cause, eating disorders can be serious and they usually require professional help for treatment; they rarely go away on their own. Teenagers with eating disorders are also at a higher risk for anxiety, depression and substance abuse. If you notice signs and symptoms of other, related mental health issues it is important to seek treatment for them as well. If you are concerned, the best thing you can do for your son or daughter is to contact a medical professional. You can begin by speaking with your teen’s pediatrician if you are comfortable doing so. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a psychiatrist who can help.

Additional support is available through the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/. NEDA offers free and confidential assistance over a helpline that is staffed Monday through Thursday from 9 am – 9 pm EST, and on Fridays from 9 am – 5 pm EST. You can call or chat with someone on the helpline. NEDA offers an online screening tool as well, which you can use to determine whether it is time to seek professional support.


Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brave-girl-eating/201008/5-warning-signs-your-child-may-be-developing-eating-disorder

WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/features/eating-disorders-children-teens

National Eating Disorders Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline