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Signs of Eating Disorders in Teens – From Perfectionism to Purging

Perfectionism and purging are two signs of eating disorders in teenagers. Here’s how to recognize anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphic disorder – or confirm what you already suspect.

There is a huge difference between an eating disorder, which is a psychological disorder requiring diagnosis and treatment, and simply being concerned with healthy weight loss in teens, fitness, and nutritious eating. It’s almost impossible to live in North America and take weight loss and body image concerns too far, since we’re as a society obsessed with beauty and perfection!

The line between eating disorders and healthy eating can blur — which is why knowing how to recognize the signs of eating disorders is so important.

For more info about eating disorders, read Teenage Eating Disorders. And, read on for signs of eating disorders in teenagers…

Signs of Eating Disorders in Teenagers

Eating disorders aren’t about weight loss, diets, or healthy eating — they are serious psychological disorders. Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders are about feeling sad and unhappy. The symptoms and treatments of an eating disorder are tied in with mental and emotional health. Often, an unhealthy body image is also an issue.

Before you can start an affective treatment plan for anorexia, bulimia, or body dysmorphic disorder, you need to recognize the signs of eating disorders.

Signs of eating disorders:

  • Feelings of being fat or obese even if weight and body mass index (BMI) is normal
  • Eating to avoid dealing with feelings, people, or situations
  • Not eating at all, or eating less than 1,000 calories a day
  • Feelings of wanting to be perfect; struggles with perfectionism
  • Feelings of unworthiness or insignificance
  • Preoccupation with food, calories, and eating
  • Eating until painfully full, and/or purging with laxatives or vomiting
  • Not recognizing the difference between physical and emotional hunger

Saying “yes” to one or two of these signs of eating disorders doesn’t necessarily mean a teen has an eating disorder, but it could indicate an unhealthy body image or low self-esteem. Teenagers who are excessively thin or overweight, who exercise all the time, or who are preoccupied with healthy foods (orthorexia nervosa) may also be struggling with an eating disorder.

If you’re a teenager with bulimia or anorexia, you may find this article helpful: Should You Tell Your Boyfriend About Your Eating Disorder?

Teen Eating Disorders Aren’t About Weight Loss

Teenage Eating Disorders Bulimia, Anorexia, Body Dysmorphia
Though society and the media glamorize being thin and beautiful, eating disorders aren’t all about losing weight. Eating disorders are about unexpressed feelings of fear, anxiety, grief, inadequacy or failure. Eating disorders are efforts to take control in a chaotic life – desperate attempts to deal with difficult situations and negative feelings.

Teenage eating disorders may start as a way to take control or avoid certain emotions, and then develop into a habit that is incredibly difficult to overcome (but not impossible!).

Another informative DVD for eating disorders is Thin, an HBO documentary film that delves into the lives of women with eating disorders. It’s an honest, realistic look at what it’s like to struggle with anorexia, bulimia, or body dysmorphic disorder.

Recognizing the signs of eating disorders is the first step to treating them. For help, read Binge Eating Treatment – How to Stop Overeating.

Are you struggling in your relationship with your teenager? Read When Your Daughter Says She Hates You – 8 Ways to Reconnect.

If you have any thoughts about teenage eating disorders, please comment below…

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6 thoughts on “Signs of Eating Disorders in Teens – From Perfectionism to Purging”

  1. “It’s much better and safer for parents to respond to worrisome eating behaviors early — even if there turns out to be no problem — than to wait until there is obviously a big problem,’ Rosen says. “It is much easier to prevent an eating disorder than it is to treat an eating disorder,” says David Rosen, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and Chief of Teenage and Young Adult Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics.

    Rosen offers these suggestions for parents:

    1. Be attentive to your children’s eating habits. If you see behaviors that are worrisome to you, talk to your children about them. If the behaviors escalate, involve your child’s doctor.

    2. Find out what your children’s schools are doing to prevent childhood obesity. Be involved and engaged in that process.

    3. Ask your children if they’re being teased at school about their food choices or their weight. If they are, go to the school and find out what is happening.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    What’s the best way to help someone with an eating disorder? It depends on the person, I think. Some teens you can confront directly, while others you have to tread more carefully.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Getting therapy for bulimia and help for anorexia isn’t avoiding the problem of eating disorders, I don’t think.

    I also think teen eating disorders is a combination of genetic and learned behavior: many teenagers develop body image issues from society (movies, TV, books) and even from their mothers, friends, and other women in their lives. Couple that with a tendency towards perfectionism or obsessive compulsive leanings, and an eating disorder could develop.

    I’d be interested in learning how you can lend a hand to people with bulimia or anorexia nervosa…I’m sure you CAN, but I’m just curious about how.

  4. I’m sick of people telling me its just a phase when I know people out there dying from eating disorders! Lend a hand; don’t avoid the problem people.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks, Morgan. You’re right: identifying the causes of teen eating disorders is important.

    It’s interesting that eating disorders may run in families; I wonder if it’s genetic or learned behavior? That is, do teenagers watch their parents struggle with anorexia or bulimia and develop eating disorders that way, or is it a gene they’re just born with?

  6. Hi,

    This is good information about eating disorders for teens, but I want to share about the causes of anorexia and bulimia. This info is from TeensHealth.org:

    What Causes Eating Disorders?

    No one is really sure what causes eating disorders, although there are many theories about why people develop them. Many people who develop an eating disorder are between 13 and 17 years old. This is a time of emotional and physical changes, academic pressures, and a greater degree of peer pressure. Although there is a sense of greater independence during the teen years, teens might feel that they are not in control of their personal freedom and, sometimes, of their bodies. This can be especially true during puberty.

    For girls, even though it’s completely normal (and necessary) to gain some additional body fat during puberty, some respond to this change by becoming very fearful of their new weight. They might mistakenly feel compelled to get rid of it any way they can.

    When you combine the pressure to be like celeb role models with the fact that during puberty our bodies change, it’s not hard to see why some teens develop a negative view of themselves.

    Many people with eating disorders also can be depressed or anxious, or have other mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There is also evidence that eating disorders may run in families. Although part of this may be our in genes, it’s also because we learn our values and behaviors from our families.

    This is important information about teenage eating disorders.