Identifying an Eating Disorder in Your Teen

Identifying an Eating Disorder in Your Teen

lonely sad womanFebruary hosts National Eating Disorders Awareness week from the 21st through 27th.  While you may think you have an understanding of what an eating disorder “looks like,” try to realize that your TV knowledge is loaded with misconceptions.  Eating disorders are not a disorder one chooses to have; in fact they are compulsive disorders that can be the cause of one’s biological, psychological, social or even environmental issues.  Although average onset for eating disorders is late adolescences to early adulthood, your adolescent may show warning signs.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Anorexia Nervosa

Better known as anorexia, has an average onset of age 19.  These individuals experience fear around weight gain, therefore resulting in a body weight that is less than what is considered normal for their height and weight.  They are considered to have a disturbed self-evaluation when discussing their weight, typically denying any issues.

sad young womanBulimia Nervosa

Bulimia, also known as binging and purging, has an onset of 20.  Those with Bulimia Nervosa experience a loss of control when eating, eating more food than others in the same period of time.  However, to avoid weight gain, self-induced vomiting, exercise, and abuse of laxatives or diuretics are utilized.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified

Eating Disorders NOS have a later onset of 25.  This disorder is similar to Bulimia Nervosa; however, individuals do not engage in the behaviors that are utilized to prevent weight gain.  These individuals can experience embarrassment due to their eating habits, possibly leading to eating in private.

Identifying an Eating Disorder

Typically signs, symptoms, and behaviors include:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or being fat
  • Hoarding or hiding food
  • Eating in secret
  • Social withdrawal and depression
  • Dizziness
  • Irregularity in sleeping patterns
  • Dry or yellow skin
  • Developing fine body hair
  • Thinning, dry head hear
  • Wearing bulky clothing
  • Excessive exercise
  • Being more secretive and often disappearing, specifically after meals
  • Feeling cold a majority of the time
  • Irritability

Close-up portrait of a sad teen girl

Eating disorders can be difficult to identify and most parents are shocked when their son or daughter is diagnosed.  However, ifyou are noticing these behaviors, have your child screened.  This year the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is offering free 3-minute screenings on their website

If your adolescent met the criteria for an eating disorder, treatment and medical attention,as well as regular one-hour sessions with a counselor, are necessary for recovery.  However, to support your adolescent through this process, you can engage in behaviors that foster and model a lifestyle that combines both healthy eating with healthy physically activity.  Also, talking positively about your body and modeling acceptance will be important for your teen or young adult to witness.  Just remember, this is not solely on you.  However, modeling acceptance makes it easier for your teen to feel less judgment and begin challenging his or her beliefs.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, NEDA and Denver’s Eating Recovery Center offer additional resources to guide you or your loved one toward recovery.


Lori Dougherty


Lori Dougherty is a Marriage and Family Counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. As a child and family counselor, she helps families navigate the many difficulties that can arise. Through art, play, and parent coaching, she helps families rebuild their bond so they can feel like a family again.


One Response to Identifying an Eating Disorder in Your Teen

Leave a reply