Teen Eating Disorders

Posted by GPWHC on 31 August 2016

As students begin going back to school, we wanted to take a look at a very important topic relating to the health of all students- eating disorders.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines eating disorders as:

There is a commonly held view that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Eating disorders frequently begin during the teenage years, and are not limited only to girls, boys can also be affected; however, data shows women are roughly 2.5 times more likely to have an eating disorder. 

There are many possible diagnoses for an eating disorder, but there are three that are most common- anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.  Of the three, anorexia has the highest mortality rate, often due to complications from starvation or suicide.  Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Bulimia is characterized by “recurrent or frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes,” and are followed by “forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.”  It is not uncommon for a patient with bulimia to maintain what is considered a healthy weight, and symptoms include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack
  • People suffering from binge-eating disorder feel as though they have no control over their eating, and suffer from periods of binge-eating that, unlike bulimia, are not followed by the purging habits.  Often overweight or obese, this is the  most common eating disorder in the United States, and symptoms include:
  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
  • Eating even when you're full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you're uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

While eating disorders can begin and affect any age, it is not uncommon for these diseases to begin during the teenage years, if you suspect your teen shows any of the above symptoms, please schedule an immediate appointment with a doctor or mental health professional.  These diseases are an illness, and the most effective treatments are handled by licensed professionals.  For more information, please visit NIMH. 

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Teen Eating Disorders


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