How to Know Your Teen May Have An Eating Disorder

How do I know if my teen has an eating disorder? 


Weight obsession affects millions of teenagers today, especially girls. At any given time, one out of every seven women has or is struggling with an eating disorder. One study a few years ago found that 36% of adolescent girls – more than one out of every three — believed they were overweight, while 59% were trying to lose weight.


PexelSadTeenGirlMore than 90% of people with an eating disorder are girls. Teenage boys, though, also have body image concerns. Many boys strive for the perfect body by dieting or by doing compulsive exercise.


Unfortunately, many eating disorders go undetected and untreated because parents don’t recognize the warning signs. Learning how to spot the subtle warning signs of an eating disorder could help you catch a problem early.


Early intervention is key to addressing an eating disorder effectively.


Signs your teen may have an eating disorder:


1. Body Insecurity


While all teens can be a little self-conscious at one time or another, serious body image issues can be a more serious problem. If your teen says she’s fat or she complains about being ugly, take note. Her harsh self-criticism could lead to an eating disorder.


2. Skips Meals


If your teen frequently makes excuses–like saying he already ate at a friend’s house–he may be skipping meals. Crash dieting and fasting can be a precursor to an eating disorder.


3. Excessive Exercise


Sometimes teens try to compensate for their food intake with excessive exercise. Spending hours each day engaging in a cardiovascular activity or weight lifting can become an unhealthy obsession.


4. Picky Eating


Disordered eating often starts with picky eating habits. A teen who stops eating entire food groups or one who eats the same things for every meal may be on the path to a serious eating disorder.


5. Disappears After Meals


A teen with bulimia may make a fast exit after meals. In an effort to compensate for the calories that have been consumed, teens with bulimia may force themselves to vomit or they may use laxatives.


6. Wears Baggy Clothes


To disguise weight loss, a teen may wear clothes that are several sizes too big. If your teen hides under layers of clothes, especially when the temperature doesn’t call for it, take notice.


7. Stashes Food in the Bedroom


While it’s not unusual for a teen to have a snack or two in the bedroom, teens with eating disorders may stash large amounts of food. Empty boxes or wrappers or large quantities of food may be a sign of binge eating.


8. Cooking Big Meals for Others


Quite often, teens with anorexia want to be around food, even though they don’t want to eat. They may spend a lot of time researching recipes and preparing food to gain vicarious pleasure from watching others eat.


9. Avoids Eating in Public


It’s common for teens with eating disorders to have a phobia about eating in public. They may refuse to eat in restaurants, cafeterias, or at family gatherings.


10. Feels Cold All the Time


Teens with little body fat are likely to be cold all the time. If your teen complains she’s freezing, or she just can’t seem to get warm, it could be because she’s underweight.


11. Dry Skin


Skin problems are common in teens with eating disorders. Dehydration often accompanies bulimia and anorexia. Additionally, be on the lookout for calluses on the knuckles which are often the first signs that a teen may be inducing vomiting.


12. Swollen Cheeks


Purging causes swollen salivary glands, which causes the cheeks to look puffy. Swollen cheeks may happen at any stage of an eating disorder.


13. Rigid Eating Habits


While it’s good to check food labels, teens who are extremely rigid may have a problem. Be on the lookout if your teen obsesses over ingredients, as behavior often gets more restrictive over time.



Teens with eating disorders are often in denial that anything is wrong. They may be moody, anxious, depressed. They may withdraw from friends, and become overly sensitive to criticism.


If you think you have an eating disorder, talk to your doctor. The sooner you get medical and psychological treatment, the faster you will be on your way to recovery.


Read: What is the Goal of Residential Treatment?

Read: Where can I send my troubled teenager?

Read: 5 Benefits of Therapeutic Boarding Schools.


Sources: VeryWellFamily, WebMD


If you believe your teen is struggling with an eating disorder and you’ve exhausted your local resources, contact us to learn more about how residential treatment might be able to help your family.




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