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July 6, 2023

Eating Disorders in Teens
Author: Kiran Dinakaran

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have long-lasting and devastating effects on a person’s life. An eating disorder is characterized by an extreme focus on food, weight, and diet at the expense of other activities. It is estimated that 2.7% of teenagers will experience an eating disorder at least once in their lifetime, with females almost twice as likely as males to be affected (3.8% vs. 1.5%, respectively). Some of the most common eating disorders among teens are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, pica, and rumination.


Why do teens develop EDs?

Teens are often under tremendous pressure to meet certain standards of beauty and to fit into social groups, and this can lead to unhealthy dieting, over-exercising, and extreme behaviors around food. According to research from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), there is evidence teens with a family history of eating disorders may have a genetic predisposition to develop eating disorders (E.Ds). Traumatic experiences such as physical abuse, sexual harassment, and bullying can lead to teens developing eating disorders as a coping mechanism to regain a sense of control in their life.


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person restricts their food intake to lose weight, often to an unhealthy degree. People with anorexia often have a distorted body image, an intense fear of gaining weight, and an obsession with counting calories. The causes of anorexia can be biological, psychological, and environmental. The symptoms of anorexia include severe weight loss, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate.


Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person engages in a cycle of binge eating and purging. People with bulimia often feel guilty or ashamed about their eating habits and may try to hide their behavior. Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of overeating without purging. People with binge eating disorder often feel powerless to control their eating habits and may become depressed or anxious.



Pica is an eating disorder in which a person ingests non-food items, such as paper, dirt, or soap. People with pica often have a compulsive urge to eat these items and may eat them despite the potential risks. The causes of pica are not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to nutrient deficiencies, environmental factors, and cultural beliefs.


Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder is an eating disorder in which a person regurgitates and rechews food that has already been swallowed. People with rumination disorder may feel compelled to repeat their food and may experience guilt, shame, or embarrassment. The causes of rumination disorder are unknown but may be related to psychological or physical factors.



Treating eating disorders is complex and often requires a combination of medical, psychological, and nutritional interventions. Treatment may include therapy, medication, nutrition counseling, and support groups. Therapy can help people identify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors related to their eating disorder(s) and work to change them. Medication can help reduce symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Nutrition counseling can help one learn how to make healthy food choices and adopt a healthy eating pattern. Support groups provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to talk about their experiences and learn from others.


Recovery from an eating disorder is possible with the right treatment and support. People with eating disorders need to get help as soon as possible to prevent long-term physical and psychological damage. Many resources are available for people with eating disorders, including online support groups, peer-support networks, and helplines.



Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have a lasting impact on a person’s life. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and causes of eating disorders, as well as the resources available for recovery. With the right treatment and support, individuals can recover from an eating disorder and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

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